BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend Review
Game: BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
2011 was certainly a fine vintage for one on one fighters. We were utterly spoiled with a succession of high-quality releases, which I won’t bore you with again now, given that I waxed lyrical over most of them on these very pages. With the benchmark set very high, 2012 promises to be even better, with a couple of corkers already on the shelves, and plenty more superlative action on the horizon from the likes of Capcom, Namco and Netherealm. Next up, however, is the latest offering from the always-interesting Arc System Works, who have kicked off the new (ish) year with an enhanced version of their excellent BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, which promises their time honoured pile of gameplay modes, lots of new crazy storylines, some rebalancing AND a cool new character; and all for a budget price.
Exploding onto the fight scene in 2008, Blazblue: Calamity Trigger was a stunning, bombastic opening salvo, the perfect way for Arc to follow their long-running Guilty Gear series and introduce a brand new franchise. With a simple control scheme that married three standard attack buttons (A, B and C) to the Drive “D” button that carries out each character’s special attacks, BlazBlue was a breath of fresh air, with a roster of well-rounded fighters that even had – shock horror – genuinely interesting storylines. The Continuum Shift sequel upped the ante with a ton of extra modes, characters and improvements to the combat, and went on to receive a revision-stroke-sequel with Continuum Shift II. This was another corker, which I took a look at last year on the 3DS, where a superb game was sadly ruined by a dodgy control scheme.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is the latest, and presumably final, revision to this chapter of the series. It improves upon its predecessors in almost every way, delivering the most definitive BlazBlue experience to date. What can fans expect from this glorious chunk of Japan-o-centric kick-ass action?
From the get go, there are some new presentation touches. A stunning new anime intro, fashioned by the legendary studio Production I.G opens things up spectacularly, as you would expect from the same guys who crafted the popular Ghost In The Shell series. There is a killer new theme tune, belted out by J-pop warbler Faylan. It is all most exciting. That is not all, there is a new character, Relius Clover, selectable from the start. If the surname sounds familiar then that is because he is the father of brilliantly named BlazBlue mainstay Carl Clover, and comes equipped for action with an aggressive, combo-heavy arsenal of insane moves, and of course, full use in battle of his puppet wife, Ignis.
A new single player experience is introduced in the form of Unlimited Mars, which presents a series of increasingly harder battles against opponents in their far more powerful Unlimited guise; it is a heck of a challenge. Of course in addition to this there are a number of other more familiar modes to play around with. Abyss Mode, which was introduced in the 3DS and PSP incarnation of Continuum Shift II, has been tweaked and returns here, this time with some extra RPG-style levelling up. The excellent Challenge mode, with a series of missions that require successful execution of each of the participants’ moves, is a brilliant and addictive way of learning the 19 character move-sets.
The biggest improvements for singletons, however, come in the mega-enhanced Story mode, which adds all-new plotlines for the four characters who were previously download-only on the last home console release, and of course for newbie Relius. The story, already a rich tapestry of crackers goings-on, now sees you being able to take branching paths, a wealth of different endings, and a frankly huge amount of dialogue to plough through. Along with the recent Mortal Kombat reboot, Extend has perhaps the most in-depth and interesting Story mode to a fighter I have ever seen.
Multiplayer is not left on the sideboard by any means. Online now features the opportunity to engage in 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 tag battles, and it has to be said that in my limited experience thus far, the online play has been top drawer, even when fighting like-minded BlazBlue aficionados overseas.
I am going to go out on a limb here and declare what is obvious to mine eyes: this is arguably the finest looking 2D fighter ever made, and looks utterly sublime on a crisp, HD display. This revision wins further brownie points with the addition of some of the classic Calamity Trigger backdrops. But it is the overall fluidity of the animation that grabs you; it genuinely takes me back to the first time I played Garou: Mark of the Wolves all those years ago. The characters are packed full of charm and are far from another faceless assembly of anime clichés. There are the usual edgy anime types such as giant sword wielding Ragna and white knight Hakumen, but there are some decidedly unusual, very memorable folk here, like the brilliantly named master of lycanthropy Valkenhayn R. Hellsing, and the gelatinous Arakune, teeming with bugs and otherworldly menace. The over-the-top Astral finishers (I particularly loved Relius Clover’s sadistic effort) are just the icing on this very tasty cake.
It isn’t just the excellent visuals that are a genre benchmark, the soundtrack is a multi-layered treat, with an extraordinary amount of tunes composed by Guilty Gear sonic supremo Daisuke Ishiwatari. Extend comes packed with a selection of new bangers. As well as stage-and-character-specific stuff, some particular rivalries within the game have their own theme tune too. Furious J-Rock riffs are joined by jolly pop numbers, gothic-sounding dirges and some quite reserved, melancholy slow numbers. It is a treat for the ears that gets you pumped right up when you are beating people to a pulp. The voice acting, of which there is a lot, is also a treat, but not always for the right reasons. You can switch back to the original Japanese, but the Western translation, which includes contributions from the likes of Doug “Psycho Mantis” Stone, is at times highly entertaining. I fell into uncontrollable laughter at one point in the game, where Hazama called a lass a “bastard”; mirthsome stuff indeed.
VERDICT: So there you go. Continuum Shift Extend is a hell of an update, which, as well as all of the stuff I have banged on about above, also tweaks and rebalances some of the fighters, providing easily the definitive BlazBlue experience to date. It is a wonderful game, that rewards the time you put into it to learn its complex battle system. Once you start pulling off multi-hit efforts and getting Astral on your opponents’ ass, you realise just how special this game really is. The best fighter of 2012; thus far.