Indie interpretations of classic arcade brawlers don't always result in enjoyable experiences. However, Wulverblade brings the genre back to its roots with a fresh modern coat of paint that'll have you and a pal dismembering hordes of dastardly foes for hours.
Wulverblade is quite an interesting concoction. It plays like a retro beat 'em up but it also has a historical element in that its story follows events of ancient Britannia. It takes place in 120 AD as the Roman army is invading Britain. As you play, you'll even uncover pieces of history that you can either read or ignore so you can keep smashing heads in. Anyway, the graphics are cartoonish yet detailed. As you play, you'll see stages fill with blood and delight in the fluid animation and brutal action. The high quality audio adds a further layer of immersion with a cinematic and subtle orchestral score, suitably visceral vocalisations, and gratifying albeit violent sound effects. I'm quite impressed because most similar brawlers come across like Flash games yet Wulverblade's production values are certainly accomplished.
You control one of three warriors: Caradoc, Brennus, or Guinevere. Each character has their own unique weapon although the gameplay is generally the same no matter which one you choose. You essentially slash away by tapping a button and dodge with another. You can also block, jump, and dash as well as perform special moves. Whenever your rage meter is full, you can enter an angered state that refills your health as you harm your adversaries. Meanwhile, you can unleash a pack of wolves once per stage which devastates enemy forces. Of course, you have the ability to pick up and use items such as heavy weapons, knives, and even limbs and heads. Overall, it's a solid mix of mechanics that makes working through the challenging campaign with a friend a satisfying feat.
Wulverblade features a somewhat lengthy story campaign containing eight stages that each end in a memorable and tough boss battle. The campaign can be played cooperatively with a local chum on two difficulty settings as well as arcade mode which limits your lives and continues. There's also an arena mode that basically acts as a survival challenge where you try and slay as many waves of enemies as you can. On top of all that, you can uncover secret areas, collect bits of history, and even discover a well hidden Golden Axe (I wonder what that's a reference to). In the end, all of these components add up to generate a great deal of replay value.
Although Wulverblade is an impressive beat 'em up, it has some downsides. First, I found the lack of character progression to be a missed opportunity. If Wulverblade were merely a port of an arcade game then it would make sense not to have characters level up but it's a console game so there's no reason why you can't watch your characters' abilities grow as you advance. Next, the degree of difficulty is exceptionally high which will definitely turn away casual gamers. Of course, hardcore genre fans will relish the challenge but there's no denying that it also limits its appeal. Finally, the core gameplay remains basically the same from start to finish. You'll find new weapons and fight imaginative bosses but there aren't any segments to break up the violence. Heck, even Battletoads had the Turbo Tunnel.
If you're itching to play a retro-inspired beat 'em up then you can't do much better than Wulverblade with its solid gameplay, high quality presentation, and rewarding replay value. I'd take my hat off if only my head didn't roll away in the heat of battle.
- + Solid and challenging beat 'em up gameplay that's great fun with a friend
- + Well-done animation and sound
- + Wealth of satisfying replay incentives
- - Lack of character progression is a significant missed opportunity
- - Can be too frustrating for casual gamers
- - Core gameplay doesn't evolve much