After making the goofy beat 'em up Code of Princess, Studio Saizensen is at it again but this time with a brand new 2D fighting game.
For some reason or another, I sure am playing a lot of 2D fighters lately. Here we have a delightful crossover game starring a whole cast of quirky indie game characters. First of all, it's developed by the studio who brought us Code of Princess so you'll find a few characters from that game: Solange, Ali, Liongate, and Master T. Joining them are a whole hodgepodge of indie game characters including Kawase, Noko, and Emiko from Umihara Kawase, Quote and Curly Brace from Cave Story, and The Binding of Isaac's Isaac as well as Azure Striker Gunvolt and Shovel Knight themselves. There are a couple of original characters, too, in the form of the busty Helen (who's possibly a take on Helen of Troy and may have her own game sometime down the road) and the playable final boss Lina. Each character has a very unique move set so even though there are only 14 of them, they're diverse enough to make the combat remain exciting for a while.
Blade Strangers' combat relies more on timing and button combinations than it does on memorizing lengthy combos. The basic moves consist of light, heavy, unique, and skill attacks that are mapped to the 4 face buttons. The shoulder buttons and sticks can optionally be mapped to combinations of these basic attacks thus allowing for moves such as offensive, strong, EX, and ultra skills, throws, and the ability to use your heat up meter to enter a temporary more powerful state. This meter charges as you fight and is used for certain special moves as well. It's nothing new but it definitely adds a layer of strategy to combat. Overall, the gameplay is easy to learn yet involving enough to keep players engaged. That being said, veteran fighters may find it to be rather simplistic for their liking.
Blade Strangers has a decent selection of modes including a story mode where upon completing it with a character, you unlock a new costume color plus an alternative avatar of the character that you can use for your online ID. The story itself is silly and typical but playing through with each character is still fun. If you'd like to learn the ins and outs then you can partake in the helpful tutorial and practice in training mode, too. Each character has 5 combos that you can try to master in challenge mode or you can dive straight into survival mode to see how many opponents you can beat. Next, there's an arcade mode which is kind of pointless considering story mode exists. Finally, you can play multiplayer matches either locally in versus mode or online. I found online to be a very fun and smooth experience even though I got my ass kicked thoroughly. In the end, all of these modes provide a welcome amount of replay value.
On the other hand, the content in Blade Strangers is generally what you'd expect to have in a fighting game and you won't come across any mini-games or stand-out modes. Also, there aren't many satisfying unlockables as different character colors and online ID options aren't all that rewarding to unlock. Finally, the character sprites are quite pixelated in the heat of combat which makes me wish they were more smoothly rendered. They have fluid animations and generally look good but when the pixels start to show, it regularly took me out of the experience. Thankfully, the stages are well crafted and many of them take place in the cast's home worlds. Character dialogue also references the indie franchises such as how Curly Brace keeps trying to protect Mimiga from being eaten. It's funny stuff.
Although I enjoyed Blade Strangers quite a lot, it still doesn't reach any particularly high notes for a fighter. That being said, what other game allows you to fight as Quote, Gunvolt, and Shovel Knight?
- + Simple yet satisfying combat
- + Varied cast of memorable characters from some very cool indie franchises
- + Playing online is a lot of fun
- - Fighting is too basic for genre veterans
- - Character sprites are quite pixelated
- - Could use additional modes and unlockables