I want to thank Nicalis for sending us this game for review.
Now, I am a huge Cave Story fan. I have always wanted to see the likes of Quote and Curly in other games, like Super Smash Bros! However any fighting game will do me until then, and Studio Saizensen is here to deliver with Blade Strangers, a 2D traditional fighting game that crosses over the characters from Studio Saizensen’s games with Nicalis’, and a few guests. The game has been a long time coming but does this crossover do both the characters and fans justice?
Let’s find out
Blade Strangers has a story mode for every character but don’t get your hopes up for something special. For every one of the starting characters the plot is identical. These computers called Modes are in desperate need of a new Blade Stranger after their old ones get killed. A Blade Stranger is a hero made from code who has the ability to transcend dimensions and defend the data world from harm. The modes only need one Blade Stranger to defeat the virus/devourer Lina so take a bunch of heroes, convince them they are fighting in a tournament and watch them fight it out.
The unlockable characters and main villain have a separate story but it’s not much different from the main plot and unfortunately, the interactions between characters in this mode rarely go anywhere. They often have pre-battle or post-battle dialogue but outside of Curly’s running gag with the Mimiga and each opponent interpreting them differently, they are mostly self-contained. If two characters from the same series fight they may reference something from their games but that is it. Honestly, the best part of the story was getting insight into the plot of Umihara Kawase cause lord knows that game itself never went into it.
The story mode is ultimately lacking for a game that should have lots of fan-service and this is especially painful when it is the only real source of fanservice in the game. There are no trophy-esque bios for characters and locations so if it wasn’t for the obvious guests like Shovel Knight and Isaac I wouldn’t be surprised if many don’t even realise this is a crossover game.
Blade Strangers is a pretty standard 2D fighting game. Players fight 1-on-1 and have access to a light attack, heavy attack, super attack, grabs, blocking and dodging. The three most unique things are the aptly mentioned unique attack, the special attack and the heat-up mode. I’m honestly not sure what is so unique about the unique attack but the special attack allows each character to utilise their main gimmicks like Curly’s guns, Kawase’s fishing rod and Isaac’s tears. Then heat-up mode is similar to DragonBall Fighterz’ Sparking Blast. If fighters are low on health pressing the R1 button allows them to enter a non-flinch mode where the character is stronger for as long as they have 1 bar of the special gauge.
Pulling off the various combos from what characters can do is the aim of the game here, just like any 2D fighter and Blade Strangers comes equipped with a standard practice mode and a challenge mode to help master some of the more complex combos. There are only 5 challenges for each character and I am not sure what you unlock for doing them (in fact this game is really bad at informing you of any progress you have made without manually checking the profile section) but the challenges are there. For those who want to learn fast though there is a tutorial mode that lasts you learn in any order which I found useful as the games does not explain anything outside of this mode.
Additional modes to the ones mentioned are Arcade mode, Survival mode, Versus mode and Online. Online and Versus are exactly what you would expect and the Survival mode has you fight in a string of one-on-one fights against every character one after another. You can pick the difficulty for this mode which ranges from easy to hard. Arcade mode (and story mode) also have a difficulty option and adds both Very Easy and Expert to them mix. Personally, I found Hard to be my ideal difficulty as Medium was a breeze but expert was a punishment. Unless you cheese with Curly which is another issue. The game feels like it lacks some balance. Curly is up and above the best character in the game thanks to her screen length machine gun attack. The game has anti-spamming protection by making each consecutive attack weaker but that doesn’t solve the problem as it just means I need to hit them more. Curly is the most obvious example of cheap attacks but she isn’t the only one and it puts characters like Noko and Master T at a big disadvantage.
Back to Arcade mode, it is basically just the story mode but in a random order and with no cutscenes. This is another issue with Blade Strangers and one that many fighting games deal with. Each mode feels the same but repackaged. They are all just fighting in the end and outside of the challenge mode, which feels quite bare, you won’t be doing much different during your playtime. If that bothers you about fighting games then it will bother you here of course.
The presentation can be summed up in one word: trying. Every part of the presentation of this game feels like it is trying to be great and missing the mark at every turn. The models look like they are going for something similar to the Arc Systems games by being 3D models made to look 2D but it is not pulled off well and it makes them look a bit pixel-y, a similar issue I had in their previous game, Code of Princess EX. The animated cutscenes are nice at first but it’s clear the animation is very cheaply made with only a few frames in a separate layer to everything else. You only need to see the clip of Solgne running in the opening to get what I mean.
The menu is also very dire. Menus are not something I tend to focus on, but the start screen is just a white background with the game logo. The main menu is dull as is the character select screen. There is no charm here which isn’t really hype-inducing, as it should be for a fighting game. That said the UI itself is fine and while I would have liked subtitles for battle intro lines, the optional pop-up images are cool – even if repetitive.
I did like the stages, however. Each stage looked very nice and represented key locations from each game (except Ali’s clock tower. I have no idea where that came from). The music that follows each stage is also really good. Being a Cave Story fan I love the remix of the Sand Zone theme for Curly’s stage. I wish there was a sound test so I could just listen to the game’s songs without fighting but alas.
As I said the game’s presentation is trying. While the stages and music are great everything else stops short of being great which I can’t help but be disappointed by.
I was really excited for Blade Strangers ever since they announced it and for the first time in the while, I may have let my excitement get the better of me. For the first big crossover game from Nicalis and Studio Saizensen there was a lot of promise here. Especially for a 2D fighter on the Switch, something currently really lacking. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to expectations dropping just short in every regard, from the visuals to the fanservice to the gameplay options. As a fighting game it is still fun if not as technical as Capcom or Arc Systems selections. It has promise and if this title ends up sticking around in the FGC then it could be a success but outside of that, it feels like one for Nicalis’ fans and not much else.