"Still, as disappointing as all that may seem, I've found myself oddly enjoying Sony's none too delicate rim-job. The controls for instance are next to flawless, the full analogue support provides players with a total 360 degree field of movement within each arena. You can dash in for an attack, side step its counter, then finish the move with multiple sword strikes and a manly throw."
Six months ago, I reviewed Bleach: Heat the Soul and found it to be an entertaining one-on-one fighter, sadly held back by its meager line-up of characters. Through some stroke of good fortune however, the game was able to define itself as a worthwhile oddity for fans not overly concerned with how much cash they were throwing away. The fight action was a veritable can of whoop-arse, while the graphics certainly ranked up there with some of the PSP's very best. But even with all that going for it, Heat the Soul inevitably ran out of steam, and having completed the myriad story modes a dozen times over, I was left with not much else to do...
Flash forward to Sept 1st, 2005 where Sony have just released a fairly run-of-the-mill sequel. Giving nothing but lip service to the original's many failings, Heat the Soul 2 has been ground out with only a general sense of overall improvement. We asked for more fighters and Sony have delivered... after a fashion I guess you would say. Rukia's brother Byakuya, fellow Soul Reapers Gin and Toushiro, as well as the enigmatic Kisuke Urahara have been added to the cast, swelling the line-up to an impressively shallow 10 combatants. OK, 12 if you want to include the unlockable extras, but I'm not splitting those hairs just yet.
Also filed under New & Noteworthy are many of the freshly designed backgrounds, each seemingly borrowed from the hit animation's second season. From the roof tops of the Soul Society to an underground training facility, everything looks and feels totally authentic... if not a little barren. For as spectacular as the scenery first appears, its brilliance only serves to drive home a few of HtS2's actual failings. The arenas themselves are barren wastelands of empty space, devoid of both personality and character. Furthermore, minor clipping and aliasing issues continue to plague the cel-shaded visuals, breaking the player's own suspension of disbelief.
Still, as disappointing as all that may seem, I've found myself oddly enjoying Sony's none too delicate rim-job. The controls for instance are next to flawless: the full analogue support provides players with a total 360 degree field of movement within each arena. You can dash in for an attack, side step its counter, then finish the move with multiple sword strikes and a manly throw. Fireballs explode from the screen as some pyrotechnics add an over-stated air of anime-esque combat to the proceedings. In fact, it's the hyper-stylized visual elements that lend the game much of its appeal, the myriad speed lines, cocky swaggers, and straight faced teen attitude enforce a style over substance ethos that doesn't let go until the very end.
And yes, the patented Kurosaki frown is back in full force. That one goes out to the fans.
All this love however, wasn't meant to last, and it won't be long before players go in search of a little meat to compliment these oh so lovely bones. Well, I've got news for you Bub, your fap out of luck. For what it's worth, an atypical assortment of game modes round out the package, offering absolutely nothing you haven't already seen before. Survival? Time attack? Free battle?! Come on now, you're not even trying. The story based challenges also feel weak with only 6 of the 10 main characters receiving a look in. What happened to Rukia Kuchiki? Where's Ishida Uryu? And why on earth did they drop fan favorite Orihime Inoue? Her bouncing, bountiful chest demands more screen time, even if her story feels redundant.
Much of this disappointment though, could have been managed had Sony decided to crank up the game's hidden content. Guess what? They didn't even bother to do that. Outside of the previously mentioned bonus characters (one of which you've seen before), Heat the Soul 2 doesn't really offer much of anything else. The original's highly suspicious art gallery has made a comeback, once more offering a range of Bleach branded CCG cards as incentive for players to continue. A typical blend of sound and BGM tests further try your patience, ultimately culminating with a recycled update to the Blockon mini-game.
Recycled... hhrrrm. If the adjective fits, wear it...
But maybe I'm being too harsh, and maybe Sony have another installment planned for March next year. Who's to say? What is important however, is that you leave this review with a single, clear, rationally explained fact: Heat the Soul 2 should have been released in place of its predecessor. It's bad enough that fans were asked to fork out for a mere tech-demo the first time around, that you're expected to do so again for only minor improvements is down right shameful. If you're a PSP owner that missed out before, kudos to you! Bleach: Heat the Soul 2 just might be something you'll enjoy. Everyone else though, should sit back and see which way the wind blows.
* Heat the Soul 2 has more to offer than its stunted predecessor
* The controls are nicely responsive
* 12 characters are now available to choose from
* Visually, Heat the Soul 2 ranks among the PSP's very best
* There really is a lot to unlock
* Presentation wise, this one's a looker
* Heat the Soul 2 shows only marginal improvement
* Limited game modes all feel the same
* The character line-up still feels stunted
* Battle arenas could use some detail/imagination
* Many of the unlockable extras have been recycled
* Why buy this when Heat the Soul 3 may be just around the corner?
Staff review by Michael Scott (September 20, 2005)
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