A new platform launch is the perfect opportunity for a developer to push a more niche title to new audiences. The platform is fresh, customers want to buy games for it, and they’re probably more likely to take purchasing risks. For Arc System Works then, this was the perfect opportunity to push the BlazBlue series to fighting game fans who maybe haven’t had the chance to get a taste of what the hardcore fighting series has to offer. BlazBlue Continuum Shift EXTEND is that push, a console quality port of a fighting game with a hardcore community for the PlayStation Vita; so how does it stack up?
It certainly has some stiff competition coming out of the gate, Capcom has taken the same opportunity and released Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 for the Vita, another top-notch port of its console counterpart. It also has a lot less casual appeal than UMvC3 does, something not to be taken too lightly. It’s therefore great news for Japanese developer that BlazBlue Continuum Shift EXTEND excels in almost every area on the PlayStation Vita… provided you don’t take its online offerings into account.
BlazBlue Continuum Shift EXTEND is a 2D fighting game with a distinctly anime style, and a gorgeous one at that. It would be remiss not to first focus on the game’s stunning artwork, one of its main draws. It’s breathtaking: from the character models to the environments, the game’s style is vibrant, colourful and hugely aesthetically pleasing. Watching it in motion is an absolute pleasure, and its visuals gleam on the Vita’s OLED screen. On a system with the likes of Uncharted, WipEout and Super Stardust launching on it, to say that BlazBlue is certainly up there for the most graphically stunning game on the system is no mean feat, not at all.
As well as the plethora of visual effects dazzling – with the visual pleasantries not solely present in the in-game graphics either, the game features a raft of gorgeous anime cut-scenes, very Japanese in nature, but extremely well done, and stunning to watch. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve watched the game’s intro, it’s just that beautiful.
It also looks as good if not better in motion, too. The animation is of the highest quality; the way the characters move and fight is as graceful as it is vicious. The unique styling on literally every character is extremely welcome; no two characters look too similar. While a dissimilar styling of fighters could be tantamount to a lack of stylistic consistency, BlazBlue could never be accused of that; the difference in models is extremely refreshing.
Thankfully, that fundamental difference in style also carries over to the gameplay. Never have I played a fighting game with such a variety in styles. It’s mostly weapon based, but the weapons just feel like an extension of the character as opposed to added pointy bits. The diversity in fighting styles ensure that fights are always fresh, always different. Whereas in games like Street Fighter or even Tekken matches can turn into wars of attrition because of the similarity in styles, BlazBlue’s fights are always interesting, always flashy and always feel great to play in.
It’s a four button fighting system at heart, but very different to Tekken’s four button system. The four face buttons correspond to A, B, C and D attacks, A and B attacks are your more standard attacks, whereas C is a more powerful attack and D attacks are your Drive attacks, your character’s special attacks. The key to BlazBlue is combing your different attacks, achieving as big a combo as you can before unleashing your Drive attacks to fish the combo. To really get good, you’ll have to learn the concepts of cancels and counters, something that’s usually a part of higher level play in Street Fighter, but is a fundamental part of even starting to crack the surface of BlazBlue’s hardcore and complex fighting system.
Thankfully, BlazBlue offers a top-notch tutorial, and spending a while with it is a great way to get you started. By the end of it, you’ll have no problem using your fatal counter to launch three dash cancelled drive attacks while your opponent is in mid-air. The tutorial even offers a strategy section for each of the game’s characters so you can improve and learn new combos for your character.
The game’s soundtrack is pretty impressive too, especially if you’re a metal fan. The game’s soundtrack consists mainly of fantastic Japanese metal, the wailing guitar riffs populate the menus and fights, the shredding fast and complex, in fact quite similar in essence to BlazBlue as a whole. This isn’t a game you’ll want to use your own music in, that’s for sure. The game even allows you to choose which song you want to listen to for certain modes, a welcome option indeed.
BlazBlue offers a glut of modes to keep you busy for a long time. In addition to a bespoke arcade mode – which allows you to take any character through it, the game also offers a fully featured story mode. Then there’s the Unlimited Mars mode – where you must fight extremely intelligent AI opponents and see how far you get, an Abyss mode – a survival style mode which tasks you with reaching a certain depth by fighting character after character in one round bouts, as well as a replay theatre, gallery and online modes. Most of the modes are really fun, but it’s the important modes where BlazBlue unfortunately falls apart, and that’s online.
Multiplayer comes in the form of both local ad-hoc and network modes, the latter allows you to play online over PlayStation Network. The network mode is a huge disappointment though; the net code is very unstable leading to a lot of lag, which essentially makes the game nigh on unplayable. There’s also a bespoke ranking system, and while the game allows you to search for players who are of a similar strength to you, it very rarely works. There’s no way I would consider someone who is 25-30 levels higher than I am and has played over 500 more fights of a similar strength.
It gets all the more frustrating when, even though you may have declined to fight a person, the game will keep putting to you into a lobby with the same person over and over again. It happened to me ten times in a row at one stage, and that’s hugely frustrating. It’s so unfortunate that Blazblue simply falls apart at such a fundamental area, considering it does everything else so well. Something that hampers the experience overall.
BlazBlue grew on me the more I played it; the stunning art style, heavy metal Japanese soundtrack and deep, rewarding fighting system are fantastic endorsements for the series, but the online mode is so broken and disappointing. There’s enough content in the offline modes to make it a viable purchase for any fighting game fan, but if a bad online mode is a real deal breaker, BlazBlue will definitely disappoint. The good news is that this is all something that can be patched in the future, and hopefully it will be.