BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Review

Game Review: BlazBlue: Continuum Shift
Release: July 27, 2010
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Arc System Works
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, XBox 360
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T

Let’s see…blister on my thumb, bloodshot eyes…  Yep, looks like a new ArcSys fighter just came out.  The latest edition in the BlazBlue series, to be exact.  For those unfamiliar with this series, it’s the spiritual successor to the Guilty Gear franchise – a fast-paced and aggressive 2D fighter with a fairly small roster and only 4 buttons, but a whole lot of depth.  Its use of sprites may be somewhat out of fashion compared to the direction Capcom is going with their art style, but it still looks great (even better than SSF2 HD, for instance – the still images don’t really do it justice).  Characters also have incredibly unique and fun playstyles, from a grappler who uses magnetism to pull opponents towards his massive fists to a vampire who uses wind to manipulate the paths of projectiles and characters alike.
Where Guilty Gear was often seen as a fighting game made for fans of the genre, almost impenetrable to newcomers, BlazBlue seeks to be more inviting to the novice player without sacrificing the depth of high-level play.  As you might imagine, this is something of a tightrope act.  Action has been slowed down a bit from GG (though it’s still very fast in practice), and timing windows for combos are a bit more generous (though there are still plenty of really tough ones to pull off).  Continuum Shift puts the emphasis less on dumbing down the gameplay and more on creating a ramp to help newcomers up the learning curve.  New gameplay modes include a tutorial, which runs through the basics of the game fairly well, from basic mechanics like high and low attacks to more advanced techniques such as rapid cancelling.  There’s even a section that explains basic strategies for each character, and a series of challenges that teach players a number of combos for each character.  If this wasn’t enough, there’s even a beginner mode that lets anyone pick up the game and play by enabling one-button combos and special attacks.  This mode is sort of like a set of training wheels – you can’t do everything with it, and eventually you’ll want to take the setting off in order to get better, but it’s a useful learning tool to see how the game works.

While the real meat of any fighting game is its two player versus mode, there’s a wide variety of single player options here, too.  Alongside old standbys like Arcade and Score Attack are new modes like Legion, which is an interesting variation on traditional “survival” modes that forces you to use a variety of characters to take over a map in Risk-like fashion.  Story mode makes a return, and picks up right where the last game left off.  The story is actually pretty good…for a fighting game, at least.  It’s sort of a convoluted mess by any other measurement, its stereotypical anime conceits like mysterious pasts, power levels, and transformations compounded by being set in a universe whose laws are apparently predicated upon time loops and paradoxes, and quantum theory of all things.  That said, it isn’t all bad.  Exploring all of the different branching story paths can be fun, the characters are all enjoyable, and Aksys has done a great job of translating the ever-present japanese humor.  Of course, given that its a continuation of the tangled plot of the last game, newcomers will likely be lost at sea.
But let’s get to the good stuff – multiplayer.  The game has been rebalanced since the last installment, and each character has at least one new move to expand their repertoire (some even play radically different this time around).  There are three new characters, one of which is exclusive to the console versions but sadly has to be unlocked, which brings the total up to a more respectable 15.  With all of these changes even those who played the first BlazBlue will have plenty of new things to learn here.  Online play is some of the best to be had from a 2D fighter thanks to some excellent netcode – I’ve personally had matches with people across the country without a hitch.  Matchmaking and profiles (called D-cards) have been improved in Continuum Shift, now allowing you to join player rooms while members are mid-fight (finally!) and giving you a more detailed play history of your opponents and yourself.

All of this, coupled with a new presentation (updated backgrounds, new music, new voice clips, etc) is enough to justify a new game on its own, but what really excites me is the DLC.  While ArcSys (and most other developers in the genre) have traditionally worked on a basis of releasing one new edition of their fighting games about every year, Continuum Shift looks set to change that.  ArcSys’s plans for downloadable content are fairly extensive, from free balance patches every 6 months or so to extra downloadable characters (three are in the works) complete with their own single player modes.  It’s nice to see that ArcSys is going out of their way to support the console version of their game and not simply sticking to the arcades, and this strategy should lead to greater longevity for this instalment.
Bottom line: If you’re a BlazBlue fan, this title is a no-brainer (esp since the all-important network mode of the last game is sure to become somewhat depopulated now).  If you’re thinking of trying out the series, this is a great time to do so, with a reduced price, promises of DLC support in the near future, and plenty of introductory modes to help you learn the game.  If you’re looking for a well-designed fighter, something different from the Street Fighters and the Tekkens, you can’t go wrong here.  On the other hand, if you aren’t a fan of the fighting genre, this one probably won’t make a convert out of you.

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