"Handhelds have never been home to the latest and greatest fighting games, though a few gems have graced them over the years. The genre is perfect for small bursts of gaming, making it a seemingly logical choice for portable systems, but I can’t remember a single handheld fighter I’d rather play over its console counterpart (as almost all of them are ports.) This is usually due to poor or simplified controls stunting the experience and/or the inability to play against friends. I suppose it’s a..."
Handhelds have never been home to the latest and greatest fighting games, though a few gems have graced them over the years. The genre is perfect for small bursts of gaming, making it a seemingly logical choice for portable systems, but I can’t remember a single handheld fighter I’d rather play over its console counterpart (as almost all of them are ports.) This is usually due to poor or simplified controls stunting the experience and/or the inability to play against friends. I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that anime-based games generally tend to suffer from a lack of quality as well, no matter what system they’re on. So those are two big omens for Bleach: The Blade of Fate, but I’m happy to say this game is a complete anomaly among both the handheld fighting and anime game genres. Treasure co. has crafted a beautiful 2D fighting game that’s very fast paced, fun, and instantly playable for gamers of all skill levels. On top of that, it’s loaded with more modes and unlockables than most games in recent memory.
It’s a shame to think that this game will instantly lose the attention of a significant percentage of gamers simply because it’s based on an anime show. The game transcends its license completely, no knowledge of the show is required to play, and the cast of characters is fun to play as. It’s also rather large with 29 characters at your disposal after unlocking them all. As with most fighting games, each character has their own style, unique super powers, some have an advantage in speed, some are slower but stronger, and some are balanced. Nothing too out of the ordinary in that sense. Bleach’s cast is a bit different in that a decent chunk is made up of “soul reapers” who are basically gods with huge weapons, while another section is a group of normal people who have some super powers, and finally, some normal humans, a stuffed animal, and a boar, all of whom are pretty much useless up against the god-like characters. This is somewhat unfortunate, since it limits your choices depending on who you’re playing against. That is my biggest complaint about the game and it’s really not a big deal since there are only a couple disadvantaged characters.
In the vein of Treasure co.’s other games, it only takes a few seconds to get used to the controls before you get enveloped by the game. The game keeps less experienced gamers in mind, but also has more advanced combos and techniques for advanced fighting game fans. The frantic action is basically lifted straight from the playbooks of the popular Guilty Gear franchise, but with a few interesting twists. Special moves are a breeze to pull off and the commands for them are pretty much the same for each character, but their effects differ. Many have odd timing and take skill to use properly, but they reward creative players with larger combos or a set up for a free shot on their enemy. The fights themselves can hold up to four players, with two planes for the characters to jump back and forth from with the L button. These fights take on any combination: three on one, two on two, every man for himself, etc. As expected, they can get incredibly intense, though the CPU seems to take a step back when there are three up against you. In addition to the traditional fighting game elements, players can use cards to supplement their style.
The action takes place on the top screen of the DS, while the player’s deck of cards is on the bottom (easily accessible with your thumb.) These cards have several different effects, ranging from energy or super move gauge boosting cards to status effects like “stability” which keeps your character from getting stunned by hits, to hit property effects such as “poison” or “fire” which add extra damage to your attacks. This feature is very tastefully done as no single card will provide a significant edge. The effects don’t last too long, but since each fighter can use cards in a match, they may just throw the fight in favor of the player who uses them more effectively. As you progress through the game’s several modes, you gain money to buy more cards for your deck and you can construct up to five custom decks in the Deck Construction mode. While the card system could come off as a corny tack-on or even as a game-breaking element, it works surprisingly well in the game, since each card’s effectiveness is fairly limited. The collecting aspect also adds a good bit of replay value to the package.
Speaking of replay value, Bleach is dripping from a saturation of modes and unlockables. There are seven playable modes: story, arcade, versus (includes wi-fi play), training, time attack, survival, and challenge mode. There’s also a deck construction mode (as mentioned previously), a gallery, and a store where you spend all the hard earned money you got from all the other modes. There you can buy cards, character colors, sounds and art stills of all the backgrounds and character portraits in the game. After about fifteen hours of play, I’ve bought most of the cards I care about, but there’s still a ton more to go, as there are hundreds of art pieces to buy and probably another hundred cards to check out. The rest of the offline modes are fairly straightforward--of note is the story mode, where you unlock players through twenty three different story scenarios (it follows the first season of the show, for those keeping track) and the challenge mode that tests your skills by having you pull off seemingly impossible, but fun, combos with each character.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise about Bleach is the online mode. Seriously, an online fighter for the Nintendo DS? Did anyone see that coming? Anyway, there is no better way to top off an already robust package than with the opportunity to beat up strangers online. This supports all of the game’s features including cards and four player action. It has a one-on-one mode and a 4 player mode (with any combination--teams, free for all, etc.) and both can be played against friends, in random match ups, or in “SS Rank” mode, which keeps track of your stats. From what I’ve played, four player games can get a little laggy, but the one on one fights are usually fine. The game really comes to life online--as with all fighters, playing real people is how you learn the ins and outs of the game’s fighting engine. After unlocking everything you want offline, the game can provide endless replay online, as its rewarding fighting engine comes alive in the hands of skilled players. And there’s nothing quite like catching all three other players in one of your super moves for a good laugh.
As I said, the game is an anomaly--Bleach: the Blade of Fate has it all. There’s nothing else I could ask for between its modes and unlockables. The gameplay is hyperactive and fun, but also has extra layers of depth I can get into to build up my skills. Alternatively, the fun factor doesn’t drop if I feel like playing casually without using deep strategy to win or if I feel like playing simply to unlock stuff. This is a very rare and attractive quality in a modern gaming world that is very much divided between “casual” games and “hardcore” games--a fairly universal appeal. My only complaint is that a couple characters are useless, but two of them are joke characters anyway. All in all, Treasure co. has done it again. They’ve taken a fairly niche genre, blown it open for all to play, and created what will definitely go down as one of the better games for the Nintendo DS when all is said and done.
Community review by apossum (November 01, 2007)
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