11th Sep2018

‘Blade Strangers’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Phil Wheat

blade-strangers-screen

Old school meets new school with Blade Strangers, which takes a leaf out of the SNK playbook and titles such as King of the Fighters XIV, which sees when the excitement and subtle dynamics of a classic one-on-one fighting game – with pixel-perfect characters and an old-school, streamlined four-button control scheme  – combined with the polish and high-quality visuals expected from a current-gen title.

As mentioned in the opener, and much like the divisive SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, Blade Strangers embraces a traditional and streamlined four-button control scheme that offers accessible inputs for beginner players. HOWEVER, unlike the aforementioned SNK title, Nicalis’ fighter still providing advanced players with endless opportunities to discover new tactics as they hone their skills – none of this two button combo finisher nonsense here thank god! In fact the entire Blade Strangers experience – from the gameplay to the controls to the graphics – feels very much like an old-school SNK game. Which is a good thing, a VERY good thing if you consider how terrible SNK’s own recent effort is. For me, it certainly seems with Blade Strangers that Nicalis are filling the quasi-2D fighting game gap SNK can’t!

What Blade Strangers also shares with SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy is a ridiculous story mode. I get that the developers wanted to bring together the diverse roster of characters from previous Studio Saizensen and/or Nicalis games, including Code of Princess EX, Cave Story+, the Umihara Kawase series and The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+, along with a couple of other well-known indie game superstars: Shovel Knight and Gunvolt; but cramming them together into such a – frankly stupid – story mode was not what this game needed. In basic terms the story mode goes like this: a bunch of computers (“Motes”) get together to pull characters from different dimensions into their “arena” and fight for the title of Blade Stranger – a champion who will ultimately defend the computer network from invading villains. oh and did I mention the characters memories are erased to prevent them from NOT fighting. Yeah… told you it was stupid. I get that companies want to provide a story mode for single-player gamers (after all how much did they complain when Street Fighter V was released without one) but why concoct such ridiculous premises. Surely “a bunch of characters come together to determine who’s best” would suffice? After all, what we want to see is our favourite characters fighting each other, who cares about an in-depth story? I don’t. I care about how the game plays and how much fun it is to learn combos, try out the roster and how much replayability it has. In particular when it comes to the fight game genre.

In the case of Blade Strangers, the game plays fantastically – I know I bemoaned the four-button system in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, but here – thanks to the fact you can still ACTUALLY LEARN COMBOS(!) – it works; and it works by opening up the game to novices and experienced gamers alike. Hell, I’ve been playing these kinds of games for years, and every time you pick up a new one it’s very much a case of having a steep learning curve to truly master the combat. But by switching to a four-button setup that learning curve is not as steep – you can plow though the game quite easily without so much as a single tutorial. But should you wish to learn the intricacies of Blade Strangers combat you still can, which makes this emminently replayable. Unlike SNK’s recent release, which strips that all away in favour of bouncing boobs and button mashing!

Very much in the same vein as Arc System Works’ and titles like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue (a series whose latest game Cross Tag Battle DID make it to the Switch) Blade Strangers is a welcome addition to the Nintendo Switch line-up, a line-up that is bereft of such a deep history on Nintendo’s handheld. Making this release very welcome indeed.

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