Fighting, Manga style
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift continues an increasingly successful series of fighting games courtesy of Japanese developer Arc System Works. The BlazBlue games always exude a large amount of polish and precision controls, and there is no doubt that this game won't be any different. This begs the real question: Is Continuum Shift a step forward, or simply a rehash?
While fighting games often take heavily from Japanese fighting manga, BlazBlue truly takes this to the next level. With breathtaking visuals that are extremely stylized, moves that make your jaw drop and a smoothness that I feel is missing in many current gen fighters.
The array of characters, each with his or her own story and goals, is incredibly appealing. Recently, some games have been moving away from this, with fighters whose back stories are little more than an afterthought - that is simply not so for this game. Spend enough time with the characters, and I have no doubt that you will pick a character whose storyline matches with what you think is cool, rather than the ‘best’ fighter according to stats. Though the character roster is quite small in comparison to the large amount of characters available in other mainstream fighters, this BlazBlue to focus on one very important aspect of competitive fighters: balance.
Balanced to Perfection
The game has a very balanced feel to it, which is hardly surprising. In fact, this game has already seen a release, in arcade format. In Japan, games do not get a run on the professional circuit if the game isn't properly balanced, so the developers have fought hard to make sure that there is no character that is overpowered (*cough* Eddy in Tekken 3).
The most impressive aspect of the game’s launch is that it is a picture perfect replica of the arcade title. Note that in this instance, arcade does not mean retro and old school graphics; the game has such crisp graphics that you can stare at nothing but eye candy for hours.
The precision of the controls is absolutely astounding. The feel as I move my character across the screen is natural, and the animations for attacks are good enough that even someone like me, who has barely played any fighting games in the last six years, found a depth of strategy in it. While playing against skilled opponents always meant a quick slaughtering, I found that I gained a lot of proficiency in blocking attacks and maneuvering from a very early stage.
Changing it up a Little
For those that have enjoyed the previous games in the series, you might want to know what has changed, for the better and for the worse. Being that I'm not a guru on the subject (having never played the prequel), I spoke to arcade operator Tsian Cho about the changes that Continuum Shift brings to the table.
"First of all, the game brings in an element from the previous arcade title, Guilty Gear, that a lot of fans had been wanting, defensive bursts. The difference between defensive bursts and the barrier burst of the previous title is that it is much more varied and strategic in use. No longer does this burst cause you to take extra damage, and so can be used in the middle of the match," he said.
Cho went on to explain a bunch of new techniques and talk about the new three characters. If you lose a match, you gain an extra boost gauge, giving those with a hard time more chance to win the next one. Guarding has also changed to drop a number from a 'stock' every time you guard - The more defensive a character is, the higher a number he originally starts with.
The rest of the changes were too small for me to truly understand what Cho was talking about, but there was definitely one thing I noticed – excitement. I watched a few games and gave it a try, only to get absolutely hammered five matches in a row. But everyone had smiles on their faces, and no one called me a noob... what great relief from if I were playing it on Xbox Live.
Expansion Pack or New Game?
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift feels very much like an expansion pack to an already successful game. With so many things that are simply rehashed from the previous game, this is quite easy to pick on, but I want to bring up something fairly important: Since when have the 'next in a series' fighting games been a major shift from their predecessors and still been successful?
For me the entire fighting genre has to move in small chunks because it has such a loyal fanbase. New people rarely dive into fighting games, so without catering to that core audience you stand to lose a large amount of revenue. While Continuum Shift might not be unique in its own right, it is still a step in the right direction.
In addition to the new characters, there is an extra console-only character, but it is impossible to tell at this stage whether he will be just as balanced as the rest of the characters are. Still, considering BlazBlue’s track record, I’m sure he will be.
From what I've seen, I heartily recommend that you take a closer look at BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. I enjoyed playing what little I did far more than the likes of Super Street Fighter IV or other recent titles. In fact, I loved it so much that I went out and purchased the previous game. I'm hooked.