by Amber Hall
reviewed on PC
A MIXED BAG
Beat 'em up games are usually a genre I stay away from; the gameplay usually feels a little too repetitive for my tastes. However, I love hand-drawn graphics. Even when a game uses a combination of traditional and digital art, it tends to give off loads of personality that visually sets it apart from other games. Wulverblade is a mixture of both. It's very much a beat 'em up game and it also oozes visual character.
The Roman empire is encroaching on northern lands and it's up to Caradoc and his companions to protect their homeland from the oncoming invasion. As Caradoc (or the other two playable characters), you fight your way through hordes of Roman baddies and a boss at the end of each stage. Hidden throughout are pieces of lore, however I'm hesitant to call it "lore" and not just "history." Wulverblade aims to be more than just a beat 'em up game and actually teaches you a bit of history. It's mostly optional and in no way is Wulverblade an educational game, but it's an interesting addition regardless.
If you're into a bit of European history, perhaps stopping to read what scraps the game has to offer will be a refreshing way to take a break from the gameplay. For me, it didn't do much but slow down the game's pace. I would stumble across a bit of “lore”, look at it (to stop the game from reminding me to check it out), and then return to my bloody escapade.
My bloody escapade, however, was much of what I expected from a beat 'em up game. Wulverblade does a bit to switch things up. Occasionally you can find different weapons and use them against a limited number of enemies. You can also pick up things and toss them at the baddies, including the dismembered body parts of other fallen foes. But these things didn’t hold my interest for long. They were charming at first, in a blood and gore sort of way, but it became pretty formulaic as the game progressed. There's a nice variety of enemies, but they're all really easy to cheese. On normal difficult, however, the game suffers from a steep difficulty spike that makes the game rather frustrating, while easy, felt way too easy.
What Wulverblade really does well are the visuals. As I said before, I love hand-drawn art in games, and Wulverblade's visuals don't disappoint. Each character and enemy looks extremely unique and immediately recognizable. This is especially important in beat 'em up games where the player needs to prepare for every enemy type and their attack style. The backgrounds are perhaps more beautifully made than the characters. They are packed with detail and are dynamic in that they are made of a series of layers, moving individually to provide the game with some depth. Sometimes approaching enemies will be hinted at in the background as they hide behind bushes or quickly run ahead.
My only issue with Wulverblade's art is the foreground. At times, bits of the foreground will also come into view, and while this is a further attempt at creating depth, it only really succeeds in blocking your view. There were a few fights that took place by one of these foreground elements and I would be attacked by an unseen enemy. Without the bits of foreground, I found that the backgrounds were just as nice.
But where Wulverblade really shines is its narration and cinematics. The game's beautiful hand draw art is at its best during these cut-scenes. They're dark and gritty and feel refreshing in between the otherwise repetitive bits of gameplay. The narrator does a fantastic job at driving home the darker tones in Wulverblade with his dramatic voice-acting. I do wish that the characters shined through a bit more in these sections, but the narrator picks up the slack and characterizes the cast better than they do.
A GAME FOR FANS
Overall, Wulverblade was a more enjoyable experience for me than beat 'em ups have been in the past. I enjoyed the visuals immensely, and they really helped to move the game along during parts that seemed to drag. But that's not to say that the actual gameplay is bad. If you enjoy the beat 'em genre, I'm certain that Wulverblade would appeal much more strongly to you than it did to me. Much like the bits of history scattered and hidden throughout, Wulverblade is a game that will appeal to those whom know what to expect out of this sort of game and like exactly that.
Amazing visuals, entertaining cut-scenes
A bit repetitive, wonky difficulty levels