Wulverblade has seemingly had quite the long and interesting development history. Started around 3 years ago, Wulverblade was destined to be an Xbox One exclusive but has somehow found its way to exclusivity on the Nintendo Switch.
Essentially a hack n slash beat ‘em up, inspired by by the likes of Sega classic, Golden Axe, Wulverblade is tinged with the bloody history of Britain. The Roman’s 9th Legion are invading, making their way north, clearing the tribes an usurping them to their Empire. You, as one of three characters, make your way south clearing the land of the roman soldiers and their allies. The three characters are a little similar for their own good, but they do have something different going on behind the scenes so there is variety, even if it may not look like it.
The passion behind the project is clear, the brains behind the operation loves British history, especially of this era and wants to share it with the world by bringing to life this era to be as historically accurate as possible. Obviously liberties have been taken in the story telling department, but that’s probably for the best as it’s one of the games strong points. While a little simple, I found the story quite compelling as the plight and courage of the native Britons fight back against the war machine of the Romans.
So the story is good and well worth a play through for it alone, but it’s the gameplay that’s key for a beat ‘em up. It’s both simple and a little complicated, which doesn’t make sense, but let me try to explain. The general attacks couldn’t be easier. You can spam your normal attack no problem, you have a jump and block button. You can pick up heavy weapons from time to time which use a different button. These are the more simple things.
Then you have things like dodges, grab and shield bashes which require a little more input and, if I’m honest, a little more finicky than I liked.
Rage mode is something you’ll need to activate once in a while. As you fight and kill enemies a blue gauge under your health bar will increase, once full you can unleash your rage mode for a few seconds which does a few things to help you out. Firstly, you stop taking damage, secondly your health regenerates and finally you can wail on your opponent without flinching at all. It’s very useful and it’s a pity you’ll only be able to use it a couple of times per stage as it does take a while to charge up unless you find a rare power up that instantly fills it.
Even less common is the special attack which can only be activated once per stage by holding the ZR button and then pressing attack. This calls in wolves to wipe out a few enemies that are around you. This is good for taking out enemies when you’re getting overwhelmed. It’s a shame that all three characters have the same special attack though, it would have been nice to see something a little different for each, but it’s okay.
Each of the stages is fairly long, at least for the standards of the genre, coming in at around 15 minutes a piece. They’re cut in half by a check point and climaxing to an end boss. Despite wanting to appease to older arcade beat ‘em ups, Wulverblade will last you a great deal longer.
It’s also quite the challenge. The first few stages are pretty manageable but once you get to the stage 3 boss, things ramp up. Even the standard enemies can be difficult as you start facing Roman legions, assassins and cavalry. But it’s the bosses than may beat you away with frustration in the end. They’re quick and unforgiving, with shield breaking attacks. I consider myself to be a gamer of decent skill as long (as it’s not a fighting game) and I had to to try multiple times on a few bosses, occasionally cheesing it by keeping one in a corner. You’re going to need to go in with full health, all three lives intact, your rage mode ready to go as well as your special attack. It certainly emulates old school arcade games well in this area. What I found the biggest shame though was that if you died at the boss, you were sent back to the checkpoint which is half way through the level and so you need to complete half the level again before you can try to beat the boss once more. In all honesty, it’s far too difficult for its own good and does take a bit of a shine off what is an excellent game.
There’s no levelling up or upgrades here, so in that regard it’s a more old school experience and it’s something I appreciate as it keeps it simple. There’s no superfluous exp, no pointless weapon upgrades or unlockables moves that you never use. It’s just straight to the point right from the beginning and I like it.
Like with any good beat ‘em up, you can play multiplayer. Sadly, despite having three characters, it’s only open to two players at a time. Joy-cons are available for use. Obviously, it’s a game that’s fun to play with friends, but it doesn’t make the game any easier, sadly. There’s also a problem of once a second player has joined, they’re joined for good. I couldn’t find anyway to let the second player leave the game without actually leaving the level.
Not only is there a good game in Wulverblade, there’s also a decent history lesson to go along with it. As unlockables you can find secrets that can teach you about the life and times of a Roman occupied Britain. With descriptions and photos taken by the very own director of the game, again, you just want to cuddle the enthusiasm and commitment put into this project. As someone who’s rather a fan of history, I found it fascinating taking in all the information and I think history buffs will love this.
The artwork is superb. It looks absolutely gorgeous and you can see the attention to detail gone into it. It captures the mood and feeling of the game so well. The atmosphere is tangible. The production value gone into it is superb, overall. There’s some top notch voice acting with well written dialogue that you probably wouldn’t see in other games of the same type. The music and sound effects blend really well together and with the beautifully hand drawn backgrounds, makes it one immersive game. Thematically, it’s spot on.
It’s all going well for Wulverblade in this review. And yes, it’s well deserved but it’s not a perfect experience. There are a few niggling issues that prevent Wulverblade being pure gold, although many of them come with the territory of the genre. And rather than serving as a nitpicking part of the review, I hope the developer can take these on board to make the game better. Firstly, your characters aren’t quite as nimble or responsive as I would like. So many times I was mentally up with the action, but my characters movement and responsiveness couldn’t keep up. While slightly annoying against normal enemies, it does become quite the problem against the bosses which often feel more difficult because of what your character can’t do, rather than what he can do. I wanted to block and dodge well before my character was up for the task. Blocking and dodging should be instantaneous and have priority actions above others. I guess this is the main issue as it did hamper the experience once the difficulty ramped up.
Smaller issues such as picking up items in the environment, which is fussier than it should be. In fact, this problem seems to be in every game these days. Why do games make it such a pain to pick things up?
I felt the controls could have been mapped better and the lack of being able to re-map them to be disappointing. I really hated that the block button was at A as it felt disconnected from the attack button which is at Y. In any game where attacking and blocking are needed you want to be able to interchange them as swiftly as possible. Blocking should have been one of the shoulder buttons or B. I also didn’t like how some moves used directional inputs, for example grabs and charges. They more often than not happened by mistake and generally got in the way of what I really wanted to do.
Finally, I found the roll dodge to be inadequate. I disliked only being able to roll dodge the way your character was facing at the time rather than where you were pointing the analogue stick. Secondly, only being able to roll dodge horizontally, rather than anywhere you want, was rather frustrating.
Like I said, I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining a lot, but I really want to make this game be the best it can because it’s obviously something a bit special. A few little tweaks and it’ll be there.
Overall, Wulverblade is an excellent game. It bleeds with passion from the creators. Now passion only goes so far, but when you mix it with quality, then you have something special. Sure, it does have a few small problems that add up to a not-quite so perfect game, and it’s far too difficult for its own good at times, but I’m still recommending Wulverblade to you guys. For a first time director of a game, it’s superb. Wulverblade is one of the best beat ‘em ups I’ve played in recent years. Let’s just hope it can be tweaked to make it perfect.
Game provided by Fully Illustrated.