Guest Author - James Shea
Based on the anime and manga series by Tite Kubo, "Bleach: Shattered Blade" has all the parts in place for a good fighting game. However, the game defies all expectations in how poorly it is executed.
The only thing relevant to the game that you need to know about Bleach is that there are ghost samurai called "Soul Reapers" who have unique swords with different powers. Sounds like a great basis for a fighting game, right? Well, "Shattered Blade" seems to somehow mess up the simple fighting game formula with a poor concept and poorer handling. The game is a "3d" fighting game - the two fighters can circle around each other to dodge attacks. Attacks are divided into three varieties - slash (horizontal slash), chop (vertical slash), and stab (forward attack). These are done by moving the Wii remote in the appropriate manner to imitate such an attack. The attack types work on a rock-paper-scissors hierarchy: chop beats slash, slash beats stab, and stab beats chop. So, basically, if you interrupt a chop attack with a stab attack, the stab attack will go through. There's also a little minigame that can occur if two swords clash where both fighters go through five rounds of "rock paper scissors" with each other. The more rounds you win, the more damage you'll do once it's over.
There are three kinds of attacks. Regular attacks are done by simply waving the Wii remote with no buttons pressed - these are very fast but do little damage, and their purpose is to weather down an enemy for a critical attack. Critical attacks are stronger, slower melee attacks that are done by combining a Wii remote movement with holding down the A button. Critical attacks change depending on the character, but are not particularly personalized. Special Attacks are the final type of attack, and are done by holding B while moving the Wii remote. These tend to be more personalized based on the character - projectile attacks and special abilities fall within this category.
Each character also has a powered-up mode, achieved by charging (shaking the Wii nunchuck) or by taking damage, both of which fill a gauge. Once the gauge is full, the character enters their higher-level state. This involves a cutscene that lasts about 5 to 7 seconds and cannot be skipped; in a 60-second battle, this is kind of an annoyance. Some characters simply get stronger with their powered-up state, while others change more drastically in their attack patterns. For example, Kenpachi Zaraki simply strengthens his attacks, while Toshiro Hitsugaya summons a giant ice creature to augment his techniques, and Renji Abarai turns his sword into a giant segmented snake that attacks his enemies.
The variety of characters in the game is probably its strongest point, though this is due more to the series it was based on rather than the game itself. Each character has unique abilities; there are plenty of regular sword-swinging characters, but some also have unique twists like extending weapons, a bow (can only use ranged attacks), and one character whose blade heals his enemies, so he's forced to use his special attacks only (which don't use the sword) until he reaches his powered-up form, at which point he does massive amounts of damage (until it expires). The special attacks and powered-up forms are the primary things that separate the characters, though the fact that each character only has one or two special abilities at most in the series somewhat limits how unique they can be. There are 28 characters in the game (over half need to be unlocked by playing through story modes), each with their own fairly unique playing style.
There are some extras included in the game, as well, though the selection is rather poor. You can buy character models and set them as the main menu guide (who just stands in the background and lists off the main menu choices as you select them), or you can buy new costumes for your characters. However, there aren't any real NEW costumes created for the game - rather, they're just costumes that were in the series for short periods of time, like the school uniforms that some of the characters wore when visiting the "real world".
The problem with the game, control-wise, is just how poorly the whole "rock paper scissors" thing works. Regular attacks do next to no damage, so basically you're just trying to set up for a critical or special attack, which vary wildly depending on the characters. Characters with longer reaches, and particularly characters with extending weapons (Renji Abarai and Ikkaku Madarame) have huge, unbalanced advantages - they can swing their weapons with huge ranges with next-to-no penalty for doing so. The game is basically a button-masher in its purest form, except instead of mashing buttons you're waving a Wii remote hoping that whatever you're doing is the right type of attack to counter the enemy's. Just because of how random everything feels, the game is incredibly unfun and frustrating to play.
The graphics in this game aren't great. It's obvious they tried to go for an anime style, with lots of japanese sound effects and speed lines, but overall the game looks like it belongs on a PS2 or Gamecube rather than a current generation console. Plus, with the speed of movement in-game, it's hard to even see the effects, anyways. One particular annoyance is that, in story mode, there are cutscenes at the beginning and end. However, these "cutscenes" are actually just a single still image with character voiceovers. The sound isn't great, either. The music is lackluster and forgettable, and the voice acting doesn't sync up particularly well. I have no problem with the English dub, but the way it's been put together with the visuals is pretty poor. It feels really awkward and clunky.
It's difficult to convey how little fun Shattered Blade is to play. Even for a fan of the series, it's a complete exercise in frustration. The controls are so wonky (especially the movement controls, which allow you to go forwards and backwards or side to side, but not both at the same time, meaning you have to run in a zig-zag pattern and avoid the invisible walls around the arena) that the entire game is just completely unenjoyable.