PS Vita Review – BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend

Fans of the BlazBlue series have something to look forward to with BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend on PS Vita. Built as an evolution of Guilty Gear, the BlazBlue fighting system has never been better and more accessible than it is on the PlayStation Vita. Good as the console and PSP versions may be, the definitive way to get into BlazBlue is now PSV.

The Vita’s d-pad being a singular, external piece will make the game more welcome to BlazBlue fans disappointed with the Xbox 360’s flawed directional system and PS3’s Dualshock design. (I kind of like that version, but I know for sure that I am in the minority.) Where control suffers somewhat is the toll it takes on the left thumb to really do it right; nevertheless, if you’re gonna do it, the PSV’s d-pad has offered the tightest, best control of BlazBlue. To hit those half-circles, full circles, and double-tap dashes properly, the analog stick seems inferior to the d-pad. In Vita’s other fighting game of the moment, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I was able to use either system effectively, eventually settling on the analog stick for thumb comfort and longevity. With BlazBlue, the stick doesn’t work as well, and a command setup along with a gameplay style like this is none too friendly on the hands, after a certain amount of time. Fortunately, the most important part is accounted for, in that the game controls well enough and the player can usually do what he wants to do.

New and exclusive to PSV is the ability to assign the rear touch pad a special combo. In a more detailed configuration, one can map certain areas of the touch pad to work like specific buttons. Unfortunately, nice as it is to have that rear touch combo available, the other configuration with its button mapping doesn’t work well at all. It’s so unnatural and is one of countless cases of forcing in the hip new system feature that we see with every new piece of hardware. Like with a lot of other games, just shrug and stick to your good ol’ buttons; they work wonders and come with far more precision.

BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger made a name for itself not just with its pretty 2D visuals and fun combat system, but by having a lengthier, more fleshed-out story than a lot of fighting games do. (Given that the genre isn’t exactly one that tends to produce the strongest narrative, that’s not too surprising.) Regardless of your platform choice, Continuum Shift Extend adds even more to the story, sure to satisfy series fans while also adding to the heaps of Story Mode play that await newcomers. Those who already love it can play a retelling of Calamity Trigger‘s story, complete with interactive fight scenes. Each of the new characters in Extend comes with chapters of story as well. Seriously, some of the story sequences go on for half an hour; the amount of detail and content here is astounding for a fighter. For example, the first 35 minutes of Carl’s story consists of a four-minute story sequence, then a fight, then a five-minute story sequence, followed by another fight, then a 21-minute story sequence. Finding stretches of Story Mode that exceed 15 minutes is not uncommon. The mountain of voiced dialogue — available in both English and Japanese — between characters is impressive, and much of it is good entertainment.

My expectations for Story Mode were roundhouse kicked through a wall. While some players won’t even play it, those that do are in for a treat. Following the WWF model, Arc System Works has figured out that when you know the characters more and can follow the plot a little more closely, the fights become more interesting. I adored the lore and story of Mortal Kombat growing up (and still do), but even so, I had always written off the value of a story in a fighting game. Save that stuff for JRPGs and visual novels, right? The best part is, if it’s not your thing — and this certainly isn’t for everyone — you can completely ignore it at no cost. The combat is still fierce, the graphics are still just as pretty, and all of the other play types are still there for your enjoyment.

Beyond the Story, even more playtime will be found in the long list of other modes, such as the dungeon-diving Abyss Mode, the brutal Unlimited Mars Mode, and of course the standard fighter stuff like Arcade and Versus. Being an very-old-time RPG fan, I found particular fun in Abyss Mode, in which players choose a character and try to get deeper and deeper into a dungeon. It’s Survival Mode with an RPG twist, as one can buy a few stat buffs before the fight and choose to pick up a few helpful items on the way. It’s an interesting spin on things and adds yet more life to the fighter.

Gamers choosing this as their first foray into BlazBlue need not worry, as helpful tutorials are available in Continuum Shift Extend. They won’t explain all of the buzzwords and might take a bit too long for the impatient gamer, but they are always there to help. They provide a good introduction to the mechanics and do their job well.

Extend brings in previous downloadable characters into the main cast and adds the brand new Relius. While $40 seems a steep price to pay for some extended story, the DLC faces, and one new character, the nice part about the package is that it includes the necessary re-balancing that needs to be done when a fighting game gets so many new characters. Being Carl’s father, Relius represents a second puppet master in the game, and as such, is a welcome addition. Beyond the new characters, the old standbys still deliver, each adding a uniquely wacky take on BlazBlue‘s fighting system.

The graphics and music are what series fans would come to expect, both among the finest in the genre. Characters are gorgeously animated and their bouts take place on varied, nice-looking battlefields, making this yet another game to demonstrate just how great things can look on the Vita’s screen. Most of the engagements will be enhanced by the furious wailing of electric guitars and high-speed drumming. The music and voice clips from the characters does a great deal to add to the matches. While it does look and sound wonderful, it should be noted that most of the tracks and attack animations are imported from previous BB installments.

Online connectivity with the PS3 version was a popular rumor leading up to release, but the feature unfortunately didn’t make it into the final cut of Continuum Shift Extend. What’s there is up to par, at least, so while it can’t claim that exciting inter-connectivity, multiplayer is in no way lacking. Signing into the network and firing up a match is quick and easy. With a teammate, one can even get into team battles of two-on-two up through three-on-three. Handicap matches can be set in place as well, allowing those with varied skill levels to find an even match against each other. Each person selects a character, then joins one side or the other. They play out in a series of one-on-one fights rather than being tag matches or all-vs-all brawls like something out of Power Stone 2. The team combat is intense, but with each team member only controlling one character, one should take note that a match may end without them actually fighting at all.

What’s unfortunate about the team battles is that they’re only available online. Ad-hoc multiplayer is available, online team matches are available, and yet Ad-hoc team battles don’t appear possible. To play that way, a group has to join the online network, all go into the same room, and divide up onto team accordingly, which could have any random bloke as a member. And if the network is down, you and your hypothetical friends can’t play a team match like you may have wanted to, despite being in the same room. That’s weird.

Hopefully the game can maintain a good-sized community long into the future. BlazBlue is a little bit more niche than MvC, Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat, so that might be a concern for the long-term value of the game. Again: while something to consider, that’s mere speculation. For now, online play with BlazBlue is above expectations, especially considering the number of people that can actively participate in the same battle.

Whereas Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 brings a fun team-based fighter to the Vita, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend gives the system an excellent one-on-one fighter. What’s more, many will see the Vita version of BB:CSE as the definitive one, thanks to the system’s d-pad being friendly to the BlazBlue style. While the “Extend” in the title refers to its additional character and lengthened story, it’s also an accurate description of the way play sessions can last much longer than expected — joyfully so.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ For those that want it, this fighter comes with a very detailed, long, beautifully animated, surprisingly entertaining story. So many other modes, too.

+/- Online team matches, including handicap matches add to the already impressive multiplayer. But why are team battles only available online?

+/- Astounding visuals, rippin’ good music, and exhilarating combat…just, dang does it kill that left thumb after a while.

8 out of 10