While I have dabbled in lots of different fighting games in my time, it has never been one of my preferred genres. Recently, Nicalis Inc piqued my interest in releasing Blade Strangers, a fighting game which combined characters from some of my favorite games such as Binding of Isaac, Cave Story, and Shovel Knight. With this cast of unique and varied characters from a wide variety of gaming genres, I had to try out this quirky fighter for myself.
I know that people rarely pick up fighting games for the narrative, but the story in Blade Strangers is simplistic even for the genre. The main characters are actually sentient computer servers that Lina infiltrate. Lina is an original character whose main motivation appears to be a raging appetite. The servers call upon characters from different video games namely; Code of Princess, Umihara Kawase, Azure Striker Gunvolt as well as the ones mentioned above. They make the characters battle to decide who is the ultimate Blade Stranger who can defeat Lina and eventually save the world.
What makes the story mode in Blade Strangers so weak (aside from the fact that most conversation takes place between servers) is the sheer amount of repetition. The nine characters on the initial roster have extremely similar cutscenes. In story mode, you fight seven different characters but even the dialogue between characters repeats. For example, it doesn't matter if you are Kawase fighting Gunvolt, or you are Gunvolt fighting Kawase, the dialogue will be exactly the same. Some characters even share victory dialogue for when they win a battle.
While the five unlockable characters (Lina, Gunvolt, Shovel Knight, Isaac and Quote from Cave Story) have a slightly different story. The last four are a Plan B in case the Blade Strangers fail, and the first plays from the antagonist's point of view. Even with these differences, there isn't much new here. The only difference between each character is in their awakening scene, where they learn something from their main stories to help open their soul. This was the best part of this mode but was diminished by playing out on an almost blank background.
Generally, I'm disappointed by how loosely related to the source material most characters play. While I've never played Code of Princess, the characters I knew well didn't play at all how I expected. Umihara Kawase has one, main grappling attack but otherwise mostly uses punches or knives. While Shovel Knight has a range of his relics such as the Mega Horn and Propeller Blade, his distinctive pogo technique is nowhere near as intuitive and smooth to pull off as it is in the original game. As for Isaac, possibly the less said the better. In-game, he has so many interesting and fun power-ups to use and yet his roster of attacks mostly rely on head butts and belly flops. This is not really reflective of a defenseless, naked baby.
Where the characters shine is in their special moves. At the bottom of the screen, you have your heat up meter. This fills as you attack or take damage. Depending on whether you are in the air, standing or crouching and how full your meter is, you will pull off a range of different often goofy special moves. My favorite of which is the arrival of the Troupple King from Shovel Knight. This was so unexpected that it made me squeal with glee. As I mentioned previously, I am no expert on fighting games, and while it boasts deep fighting gameplay, I found it to be rather simple and I had no trouble standing my ground even on hard mode.
So let's talk about accessibility. Blade Strangers has boasted accessibility in a lot of its press releases, and while I am no stranger to Easy modes, this game was a bit too "accessible" even for me. I play Persona games in safe mode, and even I struggled to see the relevance of this game's difficulty. Even if you lack fighting game skills like me, you can complete the game on Easy with your eyes closed. That's not a metaphor, it's something I actually tried successfully. Playing on Easy, not much hits you at all. Normal will give you a bit more of a challenge however, you probably will never have to worry about restarting a match. Hard hits the right notes for a novice like me. Unfortunately, there isn't a difficulty above that, at least not one that I unlocked.
This is the main problem I have with Blade Strangers. I could never really work out who the intended audience for it is. The accessibility would hint a target audience of children, but the references are too niche and some of the costumes are too risque. I thought it could be fans of the niche, original games the characters are from, but then there are very few connections to their origins at all. So then I considered it was for hardcore fans of fighting games only to cycle back round to the fact that it is too simple and essentially easy.
While the CPU is certainly lacking there are of course other modes to explore. Some of these felt a little lazy. For example, arcade mode is simply the story mode without the story. Others will bring the challenge Blade Strangers so desperately requires. Survival mode sees you try and take down all fourteen characters in a row, and on hard it replenishes hardly any health. Local multiplayer is always fun, and being able to play as one of your favorite characters is always a hook to get friends involved. The online multiplayer is also quite the accomplishment. While casual match players are hard to find, I always instantly match with someone of a similar skill level for a ranked match. I can easily have a lag-free online experience in moments.
Perhaps all the recent talk of Smash Bros spoiled me, but the meager offering of fourteen characters disappointed me. They hail from just six different games, with two original characters included. Again I'm a gaming novice but many felt a little similar to me, only Isaac really differs in height from the other characters, and characters felt as if they had roughly the same power, speed and jump height. They do come with their own stages, which while identical in terms of play were fun to see, and the remixed songs from the original games were a treat to the ears.
Overall, Blade Strangers felt like a game with so much potential which just fell short of the mark. By failing to appropriately pay homage to their original games, and copy and pasting the vast majority of story and dialogue across all characters, they have failed to appeal to those who purchased this game as fans of the characters. While technically Blade Strangers is very effective, including fast and efficient online play, as well as quick loading times, by trying to appeal to both newcomers to fighting games and hardcore fans it has missed the mark on both accounts. There are some goofy characters, and attacks for people to enjoy but overall, Blade Strangers fails to appeal to anyone directly and ends up as a pretty mediocre fighter.
An earlier draft of this review implied that Shovel Knight did not have his pogo attack available in-game. This has been corrected and clarified in the text above. We apologize for any confusion we may have caused.
Our Blade Strangers review was conducted on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also on PC and PlayStation 4.
While Blade Strangers is a perfectly competent fighting game, it will struggle to find an audience. Too simple for fighting fans, too niche for kids and not enough story for fans of the source material, it simply fails to meet the mark.
- Fast and Well Matched Online Play
- Fun Couch Versus
- Quirky Special Moves
- Generic Story
- Not True to Original Characters
- Too Simple for Fighting Fans