The fact that Blade Strangers exists is a bit of a miracle unto itself. With a roster of uncommon characters and casual combat mechanics, this 1v1 fighting game has the gameplay to cater to beginners or non-fighting game fans whereas the character selection is more for a niche audience.
The point of the game is to beat the other player until their health bar is depleted just like any other fighting game. However, Blade Strangers is more of a unique fighter here in 2018 as it is accessible unlike many other modern titles in the same genre that require many hours to master let alone grasp.
Get a taste of Blade Strangers for yourself by checking out my stream embedded below. Here, I play through the Story Mode as Quote from Cave Story:
Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, Tekken – all these franchises have characters that are instantly recognizable. Here in Blade Strangers, you might know about Shovel Knight (who gets unlocked last) but not much else. That is because the other playable characters appeared in smaller, unique games that could have easily flown under your radar. Code of Princess was originally released on 3DS and just recently received a Switch port. Cave Story is available on many platforms these days but still considered a smaller indie title that could have been overlooked. Umihara Kawase never even made it to the States outside of Yumi’s Odd Odyssey for the 3DS eShop. Games like Smash Bros. use their roster of characters as one of the biggest selling points. Here, these characters are good for the niche fan.
Here is a breakdown of the character roster:
Ali – Code of Princess
Liongate – Code of Princess
Master T – Code of Princess
Solange – Code of Princess
Curly Brace – Cave Story
Quote – Cave Story
Emiko – Umihara Kawase
Kawase – Umihara Kawase (Yumi’s Odd Odyssey)
Noko – Umihara Kawase
Shovel Knight – Shovel Knight
Gunvolt – Azure Striker Gunvolt
Isaac – The Binding of Isaac
Helen – unique to this game
Lina – unique to this game
Point being, the average player might recognize a couple fighters so the character roster, although bizarrely impressive, might not be the stand out feature. Luckily, the fighting mechanics are basically pick-up-and-play. This means newcomers should feel welcomed, and not intimated, by the foreign roster and moveset. Sure, hardcore fighting game fans might scoff at the simplicity of combat but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any depth.
In addition to the light and heavy attacks and somewhat similar to Smash Bros., the player can perform unique attacks by hitting an attack button along with a direction on the analog stick. However, once the combo bar depletes, combos will end. The balance of this system comes from attack spammers as the game wants players to use a variety of moves; the more elaborate and varied the combo, the longer it will be. A power bar is eventually filled as damage is given and taken to unleash some more powerful moves (R1 button) and players even have access to a near-death last hurrah attack in hopes of turning the tide and helping newbies (L1 button). Honestly, you can button mash and usually win if you don’t even want to experiment with specific attacks. I was also able to beat the AI in the Story mode without any frustration.
Graphically, this game looks good but it is also, well, sort of weird. Drawn in brightly colored 2D sprites, each character stands out against the 3D backgrounds. Each character, take Shovel Knight for example, is also drawn specifically for this game with exaggerated proportions and animations. It looks fine, it just isn’t the way you have seen this characters in the past. But, if you never played their original games, you might not care either way. It is just so strange to see sprite-based characters from Shovel Knight and Cave Story look so hulking, aggressive, and detailed. Since fans have never seen these cult favorite characters like this before, it is rather jarring. The main menu splash screen is also very boring. It is also worth mentioning that voice work is only in Japanese.
There is an emphasis on the Story mode as each character features their own unique narrative; this PS4 version even has a dedicated Trophy for completing each character’s plot (Blade Strangers is also available on Switch). Fighting games are not known for their story elements but at least there is some effort put forth here in a cohesive narrative to link all the characters together from different universes. Without spoiling anything here too much, groups of computers summon fighters from different galaxies and wipe their memories so they fight each other without thinking twice. In other words, the narrative is totally self-aware but tries to create a reason why all these characters are beating the crap out of each other in a fighting game; it is ridiculous and the game knows it. Also, if you finish the story mode as the final boss, the player is treated to a ridiculous ending that is very meta. The player also unlocks costumes and characters upon finishing the campaign.
Even the opening cutscene features some unexpected vocals to a soundtrack and starts to inform the player about the plot. Besides working through the story elements, there is a tutorial that quickly gets the player up to speed on the game’s mechanics, Training mode which allows players to better their techniques, and a Missions mode that mostly revolves around pulling off specific combos by tapping buttons in a specific order. There is of course local multiplayer and online support. At this time, there doesn’t seem to be many people playing online, especially in the League (ranked) option. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to these ranked matches. Out of the 20-something matches I played, I didn’t win a single time. I might suck, sure, but I was also always paired against high ranking players who obviously have way more experience than I do. The online lobby also doesn’t contain any information on the opponent you are about to face. It isn’t until the final stat screen are you made aware of the tenure of the player you just fought. If I had known I was facing off against a pro, I would have backed out and tried to find someone at my level instead of getting totally owned, making their stats increase further. Although pretty much lag free, there is no balance in the opponents you face which is rather frustrating.
Blade Strangers features an unanticipated cast of characters but is rather approachable from a gameplay standpoint. Non-fighting game players should be able to pick up the controller and button mash their way to victory even if the short tutorial is bypassed. No one asked or expected these characters to ever appear in a full-fledged fighting game, let alone in a game together that mixes these distinctive worlds. Definitely uncanny, this is a curious fighting game all the way around.
Better Than: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royal
Also Try: a BlazBlue game
Wait For It: SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy