The catalogue of 3DS launch games has, arguably, been a mixed bag. Unlike the DS before it, however, the 3DS is quickly building a fantastic stable of fighting games with Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Dead or Alive: Dimensions; Blazblue: Continuum Shift II is no exception. Until now, this stylish 2D brawler has been missing from Nintendo consoles, but the time for rejoicing begins now.
In 2009 the strangely named Blazblue: Calamity Trigger landed on the HD systems, and unexpectedly stood face-to-face as a contender with the freshly released Street Fighter 4. Developed by Arc Systems, the cast of characters offered wildly eccentric personalities and fighting styles, while also featuring an in-depth Story Mode that dramatically brought these characters to life. Superb graphics, a deep fighting engine that was easy to pick up and play but hard to master, a rockin’ soundtrack and great online multiplayer were but a few reasons explaining how this new entry to the genre became a podium contender. Sadly, Nintendo’s hardware restraints left wannabe Blazblue fans out in the cold, until now.
Blazblue: Continuum Shift II is the first entry to the series on a Nintendo platform, but there is no reason for worry, as newcomers are just as welcome here as the series veterans. The Story Mode returns and each of the lengthy character specific storylines play out in anime styled cut scenes, featuring near full voice-over dialogue in both English and Japanese, impressive for a cart based game. This eccentric cast of characters are heavily influenced by Japanese culture, and each one stands out in their own unique way; there’s the robot ninja Hakumen, ghostly Arakune, or the giant Iron Tager to name a few. Not to mention the fact that they all have their own unique fighting styles to boot, unlike some Street Fighter characters with similar fighting styles, such as Ryu and Ken.
With the roster line-up being 18 characters deep, mastering the vast array of fighting styles may seem like a daunting task. Fear not though, as a deep Tutorial Mode gives step-by-step instructions for everything from the basics of a 2D fighting game to character specific strategies, and does a great job of easing newcomers and advanced players into the game. Also, the bottom screen displays the character’s moves list during combat for quick reference, though unlike other 3DS brawlers this doesn’t allow for quick combos via touchscreen buttons. The Training and Challenge Modes further help you to learn advanced character specific combos and techniques.
The basics in Blazblue are quite simple, using the four face buttons for different attacks: Light, Medium, Strong and Drive. The L and R shoulder buttons, as well as the Circle Pad - Up, Down, Left and Right directions only - can all be remapped into alternate attacks that require multiple button presses for moves such as grabs and blocks, while the D-Pad does the dirty work of moving the character around the screen. The ‘click’ of the D-pad helps when performing combos, as it makes you aware of your button presses. The Drive button triggers character specific special attacks, the attack varying depending on the direction button pressed. Basic attacks and ranged attacks do little damage to an opponent’s health, and are mainly used to initiate a combo into Drive attacks and advanced combos. Basic combos are relatively easy to pull off – especially when using the beginner friendly ‘Stylish’ controls – but truly mastering any character will take hours of exploring move sets.
There is more depth to the battle system, starting with the Heat Gauge, which fills during battle and can be used to pull off powerful Distortion Drive combos, or instant-kill finishing Astral Heat moves. Cancels allow you to cancel the cool down on some attacks, which can then be strategically transformed into massive combos. Aerial attacks are taken to the next level, with the ability to juggle opponents from the ground to the air in continuous combo strings, and some characters even specialize in aerial projectiles and Drive attacks to blast across the screen towards opponents at will. Further advanced strategies are available as well for those who truly want to become the ultimate fighter, though this depth shouldn't scare you away, as only the basics are necessary to stand as a competent fighter.
Many other modes round out the package: Arcade (character’s story infused into standard Arcade mode gameplay), Versus (offline fight against computer AI), Score Attack (compete for the highest score), Legion 1.5 (map-based strategy mode, where fallen opponents become allies to help conquer the entire map), Abyss (defeat waves of enemies to strengthen your character’s stats, and try to reach the bottom), and Network (local multiplayer). But, where is the Online Mode? Well, it isn’t here, and it’s one of the title’s few drawbacks. The Versus Mode does a good job of mimicking an online mode, and even without a true online mode there is still plenty of content to keep the replay value high. The Gallery features massive amounts of unlockable content to acquire though the use of P$. Fulfilling specific requirements during battle and gaining levels (gained simply by extended gameplay) will earn P$, which can then be spent to acquire a multitude of content such as concept art, soundtracks and alternate costumes. Anyone out to earn everything the Gallery has to offer could easily put in over 100 hours of gameplay.
The series has always featured outstanding visuals, and while the transition to the 3DS has expectedly seen a significant drop in detail from the HD systems, the game still looks great on the small screen. With the 3D fully enabled the characters stand out in front of vivid multi-layered backgrounds, and it is absolutely beautiful to behold. There is a noticeable frame rate drop when 3D is utilized, but the effect makes the small sacrifice worth it. The soundtrack has made a near perfect transition to the portable system too, and in tandem with the 3D, brings the world of Blazblue to life with superb results.
It’s one thing to treasure a character in a fighting game for their move set, but it’s another to treasure the character for their unique personality as well. Blazblue: Continuum Shift II successfully brings this player/fighter relationship to reality on the 3DS, and sets it on top of an outstanding battle engine with a multitude of gameplay modes. Even with the lack of online multiplayer, the enormous amount of unlockable content will keep the brawls going long after the first punch is thrown. Blazblue has finally landed on a Nintendo console, and there’s truly no better time to find out what all the fuss is about.