BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 Review
- ZEN United
- Blazblue: Continuum Shift II
- Arc System Works
BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 review score: 7/10
Formats: PSP, 3DS
Format Reviewed: 3DS
Publisher: Zen United
Developer: Arc System Works
Handhelds and consoles. I've always seen the two as a pair. There are some genres that the portable excels at, such as puzzles and RPGs, but for most genres the handheld works best in my eyes to offset the console, to provide gameplay opportunities when the big system is unavailable. Often with slightly less extravagant experiences.
So what is the role of a handheld in relation to a fighting game? A portable machine can never hope to compete with the arcade stick, let alone support one, so I've always seen it as such - the handheld is a portable trainer.
Your bag dwelling machine becomes a method of keeping your reactions sharp for when you get home and play the proper experience. It's a pocket portal to testing combo ideas and offensive tricks while snatching a sneaky five minutes from the daily grind. A small screen text book to revise with while heading to a friends before kicking their bum on the big screen.
It's impossible to overstate how much better the game looks in motion. Impossible
Fact: I bloody love BlazBlue, it's the best 2D fighter ever (Soul Calibur holds the 3D title). Street Fighter is fine and dandy for people who like to crouch and wait for their opponent to attack but Arc System Works' creation comes from a different school of though; aggression is king in BlazBlue. Both fighters are constantly playing the pressure game, always looking for opportunities to attack with neither able to cower and turtle up. Fight or die. Adapt or perish.
If Street Fighter IV is the cod of the fighting game world - guaranteed to be tasty but ultimately safe and goes well with chips - then BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 is the tuna steak - scary due to the expense but oh so delicious and full of creative potential that safe old cod can only dream of.
Everyone eats cod, you should try the tuna. It might surprise you.
It's a genius slice of design really. Every member of Blaz Blue Continuum Shift 2's 18 strong cast – this version includes all of Continuum Shift's DLC fighters from the off - is unique in some way. Ragna can sap health but is very fragile. Jin's ice based moves freeze rivals solid. Taokaka's ping pong agility makes her scarily unpredictable. Hakuman has a preference for big hits and punishing counters. Vampire Rachel focuses on setting traps around the arena and forcing foes into them. Each fighter is dauntingly unique but it means that there's a fighting style here for everyone.
Here we have a small Lollita vampire beating up her warewolf manservant. Try saying that and keeping a straight face.
Yet the controls are designed so that they effortlessly bring these unique troupes to the forefront. The four button system features a 'drive' button - the other three belong to the typical light, medium and heavy attacks - which is always linked to a character's most unique skills.
There's much, much more to BlazBlue's intricate fighting mechanics but rest assured the game's built in tutorial does a good job of explaining them and while the system is deep, it's designed so that you will effortlessly learn about its elements through the scorching heat of battle.
Instead of discussing just why BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2's fighting is so amazing let's steer this review back on topic. How is this 3DS port?
It's alright. It's not perfect but as a handheld companion to the 'proper' console version, it's fine.
I'll start by dispensing a common misunderstanding, there is very little slowdown in this portable port. There is a little but it's rare. However the game's framerate is not as buttery smooth as the console version and when the action heats up it has a tendency to drop quite a few frames. But with this said, fights run as fast as you'd hope and after a few rounds on the handheld version you'll barely notice.
Secondly, controls. Personally the 3DS' d-pad works fine. I can execute all my usual combos and play comfortably for long sessions, but I do have freakishly thin digits. It's worth noting that the game only let's you play with the d-pad, no slide pad support here at all. The game does have an assist mode tucked away in it's options that makes move execution easier and with it turned on I never did anything I didn't mean to and the extra leniency for inputs is nice. Quite why this isn't on as standard is a little perplexing.
That bear mallet is both unweildy and impractical, where was the little tyke even hiding it!
Graphically it's a mixed bag. 3D is a bit of a moot point, the dip in framerate become a little too intense and the way the 3D is applied is a little slap dash with characters floating in front of the combat arenas like creepy string-less puppets.
Other visual elements, particularly the smaller details in the menus, feel unnaturally squished on the 3DSscreen. This said while they may not look as detailed as their console counterparts, the characters and arenas are still gorgeous when in motion. It's not hard to wish that more care had been taken as ultimately BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 feels every bit the port it is.
One real issue with this handheld BlazBlue is its disregard for battery life. Inexplicably, shutting over your 3DS with BlazBlue running will not put the machine into its proper sleep state meaning the game will make a meal of the already short battery life.
Combined with the lack of any online, street pass, or genuine touch screen features - the second screen acts as an uninteractive move list, handy but uninspired - mean the game feels unoptimised for the system.
Little Big Story
Regardless of these quibbles BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 does have the best single player content of any 3DS fighter to date, with some tweaks to the console version and the all new Abyss mode.
Alongside the standard Arcade, Score Attack, Combo Challenges (these get really hard) and Practise modes there is an extensive and massively confusing story to follow. Every character has a tale to tell complete with true and fake endings and the 'Tell me Miss Litchi' cartoon tucked away here is almost worth the price of admission alone. Exclusive to this portable version are two extra tales so any BlazBlue lore heads will need this handheld version to complete the tale.
Legion mode makes an improved appearance too, creatively titled Legion 1.5. This board game style interpretation of BlazBlue sees you fight for dominance over a grid, recruiting fighters as you beat them and eventually tackling the powerful boss. Loot squares and statistic boosts add to an already compelling twist on typical play.
I'm not sure it's a 'counter' if you use a boomerang staff. 'cheater' is more like it.
The Abyss mode is completely new to BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 and presents a unique take on a survival RPG. Essentially you fight through a series of increasingly difficult fights as you 'descend the Abyss'. Every so often you'll fight a powered up boss and beating them will let you choose an upgrade to beef up your fighter of choice, from speed and attack power upgrades to perks that improve damage against blocking opponents.
The mode is slightly roguelike in design as well, failure sees you sent back to floor 1, and the more you play the game the more statistic buffs you can start Abyss mode with. There's even an element of 'leave now with you riches or try and get further' whereas losing a fight will leave your accrued abilities and credits at the depth you failed at tasking you with getting back to them to pick them up, Dark Souls style. Abyss is BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2's metagame, and it's one that may consume many hours of any players time. Slowly beefing up your favourite fighter and getting further with each attempt is a very satisfying and unique experience.
All this is underpinned by a persistently increasing level, a mountain of unlockables that includes everything from fan art to alternate colours, and an achievement system that challenges you to play every mode on offer to its limit. There's a lot to keep one amused and simply through enjoying the spread of content you'll be learning the game and quickly finding the character to suit you. It may not feature online play - it does offer local multiplayer, don't worry about that - but you'll never feel like it needs it with all that's available for you to do.
Come Out Fighting
The core heart of BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 is amazing and it's still here, beating as brightly as ever behind all the niggles. It's a shame the game can't shake its 'just a handheld version' status as with a little extra thought and care as to what it means to be on the 3DS then this could have been essential. As it stands it's best played as a part of the BlazBlue whole.
This move is called 'death spike'. The first name, 'evil floor shark', just wasn't punchy enough.
Fact is I can now hone my Ragna game while on the train and try to develop my Arakune strategy whilst spending a penny. Next time when I get back from holiday I won't be rusty. Far from it. I might even be better. That is why this game will be a permanent fixture in my 3DS game wallet.
So here's the truth, plain and simple - the game plays well and packs a lot of content for the solo player. No it's not really optimised for 3DS and no, it's not the best way to play BlazBlue. But as a companion to, or a taster for the real console experience then this is great. Because at the end of the day it's still BlazBlue, it still works, it's still genius and it's still loads of fun. Even if it is a bit rough around the edges.
Words by James Bowden (@Dalagonash)
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