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Wulverblade (Switch) artwork

Wulverblade (Switch) review

"The blood flows freely in Wulverblade, a violent brawler for the Nintendo Switch. Who could've seen that coming?"

There aren't a lot of games quite like Wulverblade available on the Nintendo Switch. For one thing, it is violent. It is very, very violent.

Allow me to elaborate. In one level, you can step your sword through a man's gut, and he will fall to the ground in a shallow but gradually widening pool of blood that soaks the earth. "Did I say "one level"? Of course I meant "every level." You can do it in every level, and you will do it very often, until the available ground feels like it is half covered in crimson life liquid.

When I played, one of my favorite things to do was grab the severed head of one of my opponents and chuck it across the screen. The attack usually wouldn't do much damage upon contact, but I felt satisfied just the same. Sometimes, I would grab a straggling arm and wielded like a club, just because I could. Then I would get my butt handed to me by the opposing forces, because if Wulverblade is anything besides challenging, that thing is difficult. The game is very, very difficult.

Wulverblade (Switch) image

As the story goes, something something Rome and Briton. And Scotland. There is strife in that general area of the world, and you play as one of three warriors who cut a swath across the wilds as you defeat treacherous, traitorous barbarians. There are seemingly endless numbers of them, and you won't rest until you've stabbed, burnt, bludgeoned or even blasted every one of them into corpse chunks. But eventually, you'll take damage. Enemies will come at you from both sides, and you won't be able to move fast enough to counter, especially when they start firing arrows or rushing you from a distance while you're in the middle of an extended combo that represents your best shot at breaking through a heavily armored enemy's defenses.

The problem with this setup isn't that you occasionally take damage. The problem is that sometimes it feels like you're made from glass and other times a hit barely seems to scratch you. Clearing a field of enemy soldiers feels great when your life meter is full and stays that way, but sometimes it feels like someone dipped an invisible straw into it and is sipping your vitality like so much orange juice. This feeling is distressing because on even the easiest difficulty setting, you have only three lives you can use to tackle a stage or even a half-stage. If you mess up and enemies mob you in a hurry, your supply of lives will disappear almost before you know it. Then you'll have to continue from the last checkpoint, or start the campaign over again on the more challenging "Arcade" setting.

I really didn't like how easily things can fall apart in an instant, even after I'd played almost flawlessly for long stretches of time. Boss encounters at the end of each stage make things especially rough, because the bosses absorb your hits so efficiently and counter with such ferocity. Not only that, but they often call support goons to fight at their side and distract you. Such showdowns quickly start to feel like more than one player can really handle, but there is good news: you can bring a friend along on your crusade.

Wulverblade (Switch) image

When I played with my friend, clearing the screen of enemies was much easier. We had to share the all-too-rare restorative items, but otherwise there was no major downside. With two of us attacking foes at once, we were able to divide and conquer and we avoided becoming mobbed. The bosses posed the greatest threat, but seemed incapable of picking on more than one of us at a time. That fact left the other one free to slice at an exposed back. It was a thing of brutal beauty. For sure, it's the best way to play.

Whether you're playing alone or with a friend, though, it's easy to appreciate the game's production values. The various environments are beautifully rendered, not as static backdrops but as living chunks of Europe. Scraggly tree limbs sway in the foreground, tossed about by howling winds. As you wander along the main path, enemies rush your way in the background and foreground, giving you a chance to prepare for the bloodshed to follow. Soldiers seat themselves by roaring fires, then stand to face you as you draw near. It's gorgeous to look at, and it probably explains the lengthy load times between stages. They're earned.

Atmosphere and history were clearly priorities for the development team. As you battle through the early areas, your progress will be interrupted by various scrolls you gather that provide historical context for the combat (though it's hard to know how much to appreciate that education, since the notes include a disclaimer informing you that some of the info is quite possibly wrong). You can learn about weapons and traditions that are related to the on-screen action, or you can just skip through that content and keep mashing buttons to strike down enemies and hopefully fill a meter so you can unleash a berserk mode that allows you to restore some life and live to battle another day (it's even possible to summon a group of wild wolves that briefly fights by your side). I actually recommend ignoring the historical notes during the heat of battle, since you can easily access the trivia later through the "Extras" menu.

Wulverblade (Switch) image

Although the standard campaign is Wulverblade's main attraction, you will also unlock various arenas where you can battle to survive waves while amassing a high score. There are numerous arenas available, usually made distinct not only by the visuals, but by the available hazards and enemies. In one area, you might find a lot of spikes you can slam your enemies against. Another might include a variety of explosive barrels. If you're score chaser and you have tired of the campaign, the arenas could keep you busy for another few hours. For me, they didn't feel enough different from the most repetitive portions of the main game to add anything of interest.

I mostly enjoyed the time I spent with Wulverblade, and I'm happy to have it available in my Switch digital library for those days when I just want to beat an enemy soldier to death with his comrade's severed limb. The over-the-top violence makes the adventure difficult to resist, since it feels like such a novelty. A challenging campaign keeps things interesting, but it's a little too unforgiving for my tastes, especially for the solitary player. If you have a friend who loves brawlers, or even if you're just anxious to support the few talented development teams that are still willing to take the genre seriously, consider giving Wulverblade a look. You could find a lot to love. If nothing else, you'll get to hear thick Scottish accents in a piece of entertainment that isn't a "Braveheart" parody. How often does that happen?


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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 06, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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