Blade Strangers Review – Nicalis vs Studio Saizensen: Clash of Weirdos (PS4)
The world of fighting games is wild. You have events like Evo that feature the likes of Tekken, Street Fighter, and even Dragon Ball Z on huge stages in arenas full of people, broadcast on multiple channels, and raking in thousands of dollars and more in brand visibility. But at the same time, there’s a group of dudes ignoring the main events and running sets of Melty Blood in their hotel bathroom with several different controllers and probably some illicit substances. The audiences for fighting games is diverse and wonderfully weird, and we’re living in an era in which just about anything can show up on a shelf or digital marketplace now. Earlier this year we had a small fighting game based on a pornographic version of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, for goodness’ sake. So now we have Blade Strangers, a game that looks like something a dedicated group of fans made in their spare time to flex on MUGEN nerds but is actually an officially licensed crossover fighter. It’s even pretty good!
Go for Broke
Indie games aren’t just a risky way to break into the industry or make millions of dollars on Kickstarter that get absorbed by backer reward shipping costs. They also have this strange, interesting fandom that has come to treat many of the major, well-known titles as an almost Marvel-like collective. This is enabled in part by many games, such as Super Meat Boy or Runner 2 for example, featuring playable character cameos of each other. Publisher Nicalis has managed to, with the assistance of Code of Princess developer Studio Saizensen, take advantage of this phenomenon to create a fighting game nobody could have ever seen coming.
Blade Strangers houses a very, well, strange group of characters. From Nicalis, there’s representation from Cave Story and The Binding of Isaac. Then there’s Studio Saizensen’s contributions from Code of Princess and Umihara Kawase of all properties. Finally, Yacht Club Games rounds out the roster with Shovel Knight and Azure Striker Gunvolt. Also, there’s a couple of original characters for good measure. Sure, why not? If you’re wondering, the story justification of this is that each “Blade Stranger” is from a parallel computer world, and a group of sentient supercomputers are trying to stop an evil force from eating them all. So they’ve summoned several of them to challenge the Big Bad, and have rewritten their already artificial memories to make them believe they’re in a fighting tournament. This is why we shouldn’t demand story modes in fighting games, folks.
Pick Up and Play
Blade Strangers is a weird game that will only appeal to a ridiculously specific audience. Naturally, nobody seems to really expect it to hang in a competitive environment. To that end, Blade Strangers is designed to play as simply as possible without abandoning its “anime fighter” aesthetic. This means that while you can still dash around, cancel moves, and fill the screen with flashiness, the inputs for doing these things are much simpler compared to peers.
All four face buttons are used, although not quite in a way you would expect. The light attack button can be pressed three times for a small combo, which will then let you lead into a stronger attack then cancel into a super if you have the meter for it. This is a universal style, and all special moves require just a single button press or a button press with a directional input. It’s almost like Guilty Gear meets Super Smash Bros. Then there’s a special button associated with unique properties, and a fourth button that just does a bunch of different knockdown hits. It’s weird.
The simple controls both help and hinder Blade Strangers. For one, many less experienced players will be able to pick this up, tool around with it, and pull off some useful, basic combos with ease. However, more experienced players may be left wanting more, especially since there are so many extra, little mechanics beyond the basic combos.
Unfortunately, it feels like the buttons are more complicated than they should be, and the game hardly bothers explaining some of the more tertiary techniques. Most of these are done by pressing two buttons at once, and they have various combo-extending properties that lab hounds will find themselves at home with.
But outside of the people who get a kick out of finding combos and pushing those smaller systems, Blade Strangers doesn’t do enough to justify itself. Why bother when you can do just as well with a more basic combo? What’s the real difference between pressing these two buttons versus these other two? There’s room to experiment and play, but there’s also conflict between simplicity and complexity that muddles the messaging. It ends up with Blade Strangers struggling to have a gameplay identity of its own.
Blade Strangers is fun for what it is, a smaller-scale fighting game with a bizarre set of crossover characters you would never expect to see in a Japanese-developed fighting game. Even the Japanese stuff that is involved is weird together, frankly. While it struggles with how simple it does or doesn’t want to be, Blade Strangers has a cute vibe, an earnest sense of humor, and flashy enough gameplay that running through it with all the characters is definitely worth a few weekends in-between Evo training.
Blade Strangers review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a Standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.