Once upon a time single player was a primary feature in fighting games. It was the time in which legendary developers like SNK or Capcom tailored complex and interesting storylines as the focal point of games like King of Fighters, Samurai Showdown, Rival Schools or Tech Romancer. Back then, even if being bashed to oblivion by hyper-technical opponents that could pull three different combos in the same time you took to perform one wasn’t your favorite idea of fun, you could still purchase a fighting game and feel happy about it.
The BlazBlue series brings us back to that time, with a storyline as complex and interesting as they come. It lets you play what’s basically a full fledged anime series driven by the duels between the protagonists and bringing back a worthwile single player feature suite in a genre that, for the most part, simply dropped single player on the back seat.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first and foremost. A large part of the content in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend comes directly from the previous games of the series. Arc System Works took the usual evolutionary approach so popular between fighting game developers and published what’s mostly a further iteration of an already released game, adding characters, events and modes, and topping everything with a through and very welcome round of polish and balancing.
Whether this is worth a whole new game is for you to decide. Personally iterations of the BlazBlue series are far enough and evolve more than what’s needed to warrant a new release, but your mileage may vary.
Now that we beat that dead horse into oblivion, we can move to the review proper: the first thing that you will notice are obviously the visuals. This review is mostly about the PS Vita version, as it’s the one I played more extensively, but it makes little difference, as it looks almost exactly like the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.
That’s pretty much the most flattering thing I can say about a portable game. In a transitional period so near to launch and so full of cheap ports of iOS games and releases that sport graphics that could probably run on a PSP, BlazBlue is one of the entries in the PS Vita line-up that make the console’s graphical power truly shine.
Sprites are extremely clean and well designed, almost completely free of aliasing. Animation is fluid and lightning fast, and environments are lush and dense. Add to that a fantastic anime-style art direction and some absolutely lovely animated cutscenes (the opening is animated by the award winning studio Production I.G, and it shows), and you’ll see why it’s very easy to fall in love with the visuals of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend.
To put it down simply, it’s a gorgeous game that really showcases what the PS Vita can do, while the console returns the favor with its bright and crisp OLED display, that has the same effect on BlazBlue as a flattering dress that makes an already beautiful lady look even more charming.
Audio is as rich as the visuals. Not only the soundtrack is downright fantastic, sporting great variety and execution, but every line in the story modes is voice acted both in Japanese and in English. This grants a very welcome choice between the masterful original voice overs and a rather competent (but easier to understand) western counterparts.
The true test of a fighting game is, of course, the gameplay, and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend delivers in spades. Variety and technical complexity are the two pillars that support the game, and they do so without missing a single beat.
Basic gameplay finds its foundations on lightning fast and long series of combos and cancels (ways to waive the recovery period after an attack in order to tie multiple strikes into a longer combo, for those that are less accustomed to fighting games), but on top of those Arc System Works built an extensive web of counters, deadly counters, bursts, multiple ways to defend and recover and Astral Heats that will probably boggle the mind of the average beginner.
The BlazBlue series is built from the ground up for technical players, and gives them plenty of tools to create their own personalized fighting style and strategies among endless possible combinations.
Variety is further enabled by the fact that almost all of the 19 available fighters are quite unique not only in their looks but also in their fighting style and move sets. Mastering one character is enough of a challenge for the average gamer. If you want to master all all of them, I seriously wish you luck with all my heart, because I personally couldn’t get even near to achieve that. There simply isn’t enough space in my brain.
Even more variety comes packed with several single player modes that go from the most extensive (and at times frustrating, considering how demanding it can be, skill-wise) tutorial I ever seen to the story mode, passing by the new UnlimitedMars mode, that pitches the player against a pre-determined series of extremely difficult AI opponents.