Monday, 19 July 2010

Game Review: BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (Xbox 360, PS3)

In the west where ultra realistic graphics, engaging storylines and guns and explosions are considered the quintessential ingredients for success in the vast majority of today’s video games its no surprise that many a game that doesn’t sport these features often receive a lukewarm reception at retail level or is snubbed by the masses altogether. Enter stage right BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger; a two dimensional beat ‘em up brought to us by the talented Japanese team of developers behind the Guilty Gear series, Arc System Works. The fact alone that BlazBlue is a 2D video game will have many a hardened Modern Warfare fan reeling in disgust and while the it may have garnered some success amongst hardcore fighting fans and seen favourable reviews across the board both here and in Japan, it never really struck a cord outside of its native homeland.

Like so many games before it that have succumbed to the sheer marketing might of ‘the next big thing’, its shame that the game wasn't as well received as perhaps it should have been because for those who were willing to put down their virtual AK47 and step outside the box and try something a little different were rewarded with perhaps one of the most visually stunning and technically brilliant 2D beat ‘em ups ever produced.

From the intricately detailed, pseudo-3D fighting arenas, the lavishly designed selection of fighters, right down to the spectacular visual effects there is absolutely no doubt that BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is a beautiful game to behold. Character animations are slick and fluid, backgrounds throb and pulsate with a life of their own and should you manage to pull out of the bag your chosen fighters ‘Distortion’ finishing move the screen explodes in a brilliant flash of colour and sound. Combined with a solid fighting mechanic, all these elements wonderfully capture all the hallmarks associated with Japanese Anime to deliver a fighting game of sheer excellence.

As with many games in the genre, BlazBlue’s combat is a simple case of randomly pressing buttons to unleash a combination of light, medium and heavy attacks as well as a handful of super combos and on easier settings adopting a button mashing approach will see you through the most part of the various modes on offer. However, crank up the difficulty level and-like many 2D beat ‘em ups-you’ll soon discover that to achieve results and get the best out of the game will require you to dig just that little deeper and discover all the nuances that separate BlazBlue from many of it’s peers. Like Capcom’s and SNK-Playmore’s fighting games, Arc Systems Works’ title has an incredible amount of hidden depth and character to the combat and should you take the fight online its having an intricate understanding of these characteristics, (from barrier breaks, counter strikes, distortion drives etc), that will see you win the day-or at least stop you from getting repeatedly battered by other players.

Along with large range of attacks every character has two types of block. One is the regular block that can be broken with a "Guard Crush" that can be achieved by pushing the "Guard Libra" gauge all the way to the opponent's side through repeated attacks. If the opponent keeps blocking, then their guard can be broken, leaving them open for attack. The second type of block is a barrier block, which is initiated by blocking while holding the "A" and "B" buttons at the same time. A barrier block cannot be broken like a normal guard, but there is a limit on how long one can be held, which is indicated by the barrier gauge. If the barrier gauge empties, then the player will receive 150% damage until it regenerates to half-full. The heat gauge, (found at the bottom of the screen), can be filled by either dealing or receiving damage. When at a certain percentage, special moves called "Distortion Drives" can be performed. When a distortion drive is successfully performed and connects with the opponent it deals massive amounts of damage to spectacular visual effect.

While many of these features can be found in most 2D fighting games the more you play BlazBlue the more of its hidden depth and how to combine all these techniques will come to light and in time you’ll be experimenting with a myriad of different ways to defeat your opponents; whether online or offline.

Additional to the arcade, survival, training and online modes the console versions has an exclusive “Story Mode”. Sadly, while not terrible as the excellent combat does hold it together, this is the games weakest element. The tale is of little interest and even for an Anime it’s very convoluted and of little sense. The main body of the tale is presented in a selection of [albeit beautifully drawn] uneventful stills with reams of text that you have to repeat several times in order to 100% complete each of the ten available characters personal stories. To add to frustration, on losing a bout of combat instead of just hitting a continue button to resume your progress one is forced back to the main story selection screen where you then have to re-load the story and forward skip each scene until the moment of combat. How Arc System Works got this element of the game so wrong when everything else is so right is anyone’s guess. The only bonus to be had from completing each story mode is the sheer amount of un-lockable goodies to be had which consists of original art work, animations, music and other additional content.

Thankfully though the online mode is near flawless with each round of combat having little to no lag; in a genre that demands pixel perfect timing to work best it’s quite the achievement. Arc System Works can proudly put their fighter alongside the likes of Street Fighter IV and the ‘few’ others that have accomplished the once impossible task of delivering an online beat ‘em up that actually works. Whether or not you’ll be a success online though is clearly down to you and how much time you’re willing to put into learning all the intricacies of this furious fighting game.

Story mode aside, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is a truly fantastic beat ‘em up and living proof that not every game has to involve guns, grenades and the threat of terrorist attack to be entertaining. 2D fighters aren’t a new concept in video games, but they are a genre that has endured through the years by being straight forward, good, solid fun and if you can find the time to pull yourself away from the browns and greys of the next big shooter on the horizon it’s well worth a look. Or you could wait until its sequel arrives later this year… BlazBlue: Continuum Shift.


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