BlazBlue Continuum Shift II Review
Game: BlazBlue Continuum Shift II
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works UK
Available on: Nintendo 3DS and Sony PSP (Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS)
These days, there are only three “name” developers still producing one-on-one, traditional 2D style fighting games. Capcom and SNK Playmore are the two better known firms still producing the goods, whereas Arc System Works (they of Guilty gear fame) are something of an artisan purveyor of brawling goodness. Although they may not shift many units this side of the world, Arc continue to dazzle with the tactical complexity and manga-styled beauty of their offerings. Unlike during the PlayStation 2 era, when Western gamers missed out on belting fighters like superior tie-in Hokuto No Ken/Fist Of The North Star and the gloriously named Melty Blood: Act Cadenza, thankfully for us there are publishers who will step in and bring the cream of Japanese fisticuffs to PAL-land. This means that in recent months we have been able to sample the delights of Arcana Heart 3, and have now gotten our twitching mitts on the latest instalment in the series that has taken over from Guilty Gear as Arc System Works bread and butter – BlazBlue.
First appearing on Taito Type X2 arcade hardware in 2008, the BlazBlue series kicked off with BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, a game which went down very well with Japanese arcade goers and was ported to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The arcade conversion was highly praised for its excellent online modes, solid gameplay and superior plot, the latter not usually something you associate with the genre. Some revisions and tweaks were made to both the arcade and console versions of the game, before a sequel, Continuum Shift, dropped the following year to more acclaim. The series is now extremely well regarded in fighting game circles, and has spawned a number of spinoffs including toys, animated movies and even a radio show featuring the voice actors from the series bringing drama to the airwaves.
I have mentioned before how spoiled 3DS fighting fans are, what with two excellent examples of the genre having been released at such an early stage in the life of the platform. Can this enhanced handheld port of BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 claim a place beside the weighty likes of Street Fighter and Dead Or Alive, or should we stick to the grown up console versions for our fix of quirky 2D action?
STORY: I don’t really want to make your head hurt too much, so I won’t go too deep into the labyrinthine storyline that underpins the excellent fighting action herein. The story revolves around a world ravaged by wars and conflicts, involves loads of magic and mysterious organisations, and a whopping number of characters who are all somehow tied-in to brilliantly named series protagonist Ragna the Bloodedge, a military badass who wields a sword bigger than he is. If you want to become immersed in the insanity of the BlazBlue universe, there are numerous cut-scenes and voiceovers throughout the game that give you and idea of what is going on. Needless to say, the plot gives you a jolly good excuse to enter into a series of duels between the many warring characters.
GRAPHICS: Arc have always been handy with 2D animation, and BlazBlue is no exception. The console versions look gorgeous, and the 3DS port looks very nice with small but perfectly formed sprites, some very pretty backdrops and some stellar anime cutscenes. Sadly you can only truly appreciate the glory of the in-game visuals when the 3D slider is reigned in. Yes, that’s right chaps – playing in 3D actually worsens the experience. You notice it first on the menu screens, with the writing appearing to blur; then the stereoscopic effects seem to cloud the in-game action with a sort of hazy, fog like filter, making it difficult to follow. The framerate also seems to take a good hiding with the 3D turned on.
SOUND: Impressively, the game packs a shed-load of speech, in both English and the original Japanese, onto the wee 3DS cart. The music is your typical J-rock and pop fare, and could be switched out for the soundtrack to any other recent fighting game of this ilk. The main theme tune is pretty though, and trotted out by J-pop star and Anime convention/cosplay fave KOTOKO.
GAMEPLAY: As fighting games go, BlazBlue has fundamentally sound fighting mechanics, a deep and rewarding battle system that allows a brain-meltingly diverse number of combos, special attacks and fighting styles. You can combo to your hearts content, juggle, attack in the air, you name it – it is here.
In a typical bout, you will slowly fill your “Heat” gauge by dishing out or absorbing punishment, or successfully blocking attacks. Your Heat is your passport to a bunch of spectacular techniques, including the high powered Distortion Drive attacks, cancels and counter attacks.
There is a clever new element to the way you block attacks. Each character is allotted a number of Guard Primer Points. The total number of points varies depending on which character you choose. Over the course of a duel, blocking particularly gnarly attacks removes one of your points. Once they are depleted, your combatant is immobilised temporarily, allowing your opponent to take advantage and stove your head in. Your primer points can also be used to pull off “Burst” abilities during fights. When triggered, various Burst types will give you different boosts such as improved combo ability or a period of invincibility. There are superb OTT finishing moves that will destroy your foe immediately, known as Astral Heats, however these can only be executed when you are on your match point round, with a fully charged Heat gauge, a free Burst on the backburner and an opposition health bar reading 35% or less. Deciding when or indeed whether to unleash a Burst, ensuring your guard isn’t decimated, and keeping an eye on how your Primer points are looking, lend a real depth to proceedings.
There is an impressive array of fighters to choose from, all with diverse styles to get to grips with. There are impressive Training, Tutorial and Mission modes that help you come to terms with this. It is from practicing moves and combos for a while that you will become proficient in the main game, which can be tricky and adheres to Arc’s penchant for cheap-ass bosses.
Controlling BlazBlue throws up some more concerns over how Arc have utilized the hardware at their disposal. First of all, the good – there is an excellent use of the touch screen, which constantly displays your chosen character’s moveset, and can be scrolled up and down during the action easily enough. It is really quite useful. The standard attack buttons are also simple and easy to get to grips with. The four attack types can be mapped to any button on the console, with the exception of the d-pad. There is an option to use a simplified control scheme known as “Stylish” mode, which makes pulling off combos a touch easier.
The real spanner in the works comes in the fact that you can only control the movement of your fighter using the d-pad. There is no support for the analogue circle pad, and to some gamers this will be an unforgivable and glaring omission. If, like me, you have a sizeable thumb, then the awkwardly placed d-pad is going to make playing BlazBlue a chore. That and the fact that on other fighting games for the platform, you would have already gotten used to using the comfortable and versatile circle controller to play. Cruelly, you are able to map attacks or other functions to the four standard directional presses of the analogue stick.
LONGEVITY: I have already touched on the excellent training and tutorial-type modes, and these are joined on the menu by all the usual mainstays of fighting games – Arcade and Story mode, Score Attack, a local multiplayer option, and a Gallery. There is an unusual and intriguing RTS-style minigame known as Legion 1.5 mode which allows you to use defeated opponents as pawns on a map with the aim of besting your opponent’s armies. Abyss Mode tasks you with defeating a gauntlet of enemies, levelling up your character along the way, with the aim being to reach the bottom of the titular Abyss. There are plenty of things to see and do, with in-game currency also present allowing unlockable artwork, costumes and other goodies.
As you may have noticed however, there is one glaring omission. There is absolutely no online mode present here. You can connect to a buddy locally and get your fight on, but there is no option to take on like-minded individuals around the globe, and then brag about your exploits on a leaderboard. There is no support for Spotpass or Streetpass either. If you were expecting a wealth of well-implemented online features such as those put in place by Capcom and Tecmo Koei, you will be disappointed. This is a staggering oversight by Arc, who did the whole online thing so well on the other formats.
VERDICT: The core gameplay of BlazBlue is captured in this port. It is still the same game, a very accomplished one on one fighter – one of the best around, in fact. It is packed with features – more than the console game that it is an enhanced port of. It is winsomely Japanese with myriad well-crafted characters, and a mental plot that some of you are going to love. Unfortunately it is hamstrung by technical issues and omissions. The problems don’t end with the control scheme, poorly implemented 3D and lack of online, either. The game also has no support for Sleep Mode, which means that if you close your clamshell, the game will continue to run, and drain your battery accordingly.
If you really must play BlazBlue on the move, then I would recommend adopting the PSP version, or wait for the forthcoming sequel for Vita. There is a good game here, which fighting fans will love, and a great variety of modes – but these plus points are overshadowed by the technical difficulties which ruin the whole experience.