Tuesday, August 28

Review: Blade Strangers [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While in the past few decades my interest in fighting games has fallen off from where I once was (I bought my SNES specifically to play Street Fighter II with my friend) it’s always been a genre I’ve been fond of. While by no means a hardcore player, immersing myself in information on hitboxes and higher order strategies, I like to think I can hold my own among my fellow enthusiasts. The thing I’ve seen with the genre over time is that there’s no guarantee of success, even for established franchises, and at least for me a game either feels good and works or it doesn’t. While I had high hopes for Studio Saizensen’s (care of Nicalis) first venture into the genre, Blade Strangers, I hadn’t expected that they’d do such a great job on their first attempt.


Starting with the basics the game has a pretty distinctive look for its 10 base characters and 4 indie add-ons. Rather than being hand-drawn the characters were apparently modeled in 3D and then converted into sprites, the result looking pretty fluid and fabulous. Power gauge infused special attacks have a great visual flair but also don’t take so long to execute that they ruin any sort of flow, something other series can struggle with. There are some hard edges on the characters, but aside from that this seems to work very well as a technique and even makes some characters with very different core visual styles feel like they belong together on screen. In particular, I was curious about how well the pale and short of stature Isaac or even Shovel Knight would work into the mix but they generally seem to fit right in.


The selection of modes is pretty well standard, with both basic and advanced training modes, an endurance mode, arcade mode which offers the very convenient option of playing while waiting for an online opponent to become available, standard local versus mode, and story mode. The story mode is pretty standard with an overall narrative that you’ll follow each time trying to make sense of why all of these very different characters have been brought together, which I won’t spoil here, but it’s the character to character interactions here that are one of the things I enjoyed the most. While some of the dialogue is more generic or weird it’s how characters react to the gravity-defying Solange and her peculiar armor that absolutely cracked me up. While perhaps they’re a bit rough on the poor Code of Princess star she takes it in stride and has the skills to knock anyone giving her crap on their ass, so that all seems fair.


In terms of shortcomings I’d say that from a purists point of view even though each character’s style of fighting is distinctive their method of play is uniformly the same. This is a boon to more casual players like me, not having to remember very specific motions or controls for every fighter, but I could see where some could consider this a bit more watered down. With very accessible ability to chain combos as well as defensive tactics like counters there’s room for this being a technical fighter, but with it being a new kid on the block it will take far pickier genre fans than I to render the verdict on just how far down the technical rabbit hole it goes. In what limited Online play I was able to get in while it was playable I’d say there’s a detectable lack of fluidity compared to local play, though I wouldn’t say it greatly interfered with my success. Online is always difficult to assess until the game is in full release and more heavily in use so it will remain a bit of a question mark until it gets rolling.


In all, as a part-time fighting game fan, I’ll say that I’m both surprised by and very satisfied with this initial entry into the genre by Studio Saizensen. Feeling more polished and comparable than you’d expect with more established series it seems to have struck a nice balance between accessibility and leaving room for more technical fighters to explore. While it doesn’t have a massive roster the characters are varied and there should be match for pretty well everyone here whether you prefer more traditional or a little off-center. Only time will tell if this can break into the big leagues and gain acceptance from the greater fighting community but if you’re looking for something that feels fresh and plays well it’s a solid package.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • The controls are very accessible but leave room for more advanced techniques
  • A varied roster of characters that includes some great indie shout outs like Gunvolt, Isaac, and Shovel Knight
  • The Story Mode shows a sense of humor and self-awareness that made some character interactions far more entertaining than the usual stock comments

Cons:
  • While the character animations look great some people may get distracted by the hard edges on the character sprites
  • Aside from the roster not being as massive as some other titles the diversity in fighting styles isn’t as broad as you can find elsewhere either
  • Online play, though workable, at the moment feels a little less fluid than playing locally