When you have spent as many hours playing games in one genre as I have with fighting games, it's easy to think that you have seen everything it has to offer. Innovations are few and far between, and most new games just seem to refine a known and proven formula. But every once in a while a game appears that doesn't care about the rules of the genre, and challenges everything you know - Blazblue is one of those games.
No matter how many fights you've had in Street Fighter IV, Mortal Kombat, Tekken or Soul Calibur, you will almost feel like a beginner when you enter one of the many arenas in Blazblue: Continuum Shift. None of the button combinations you are used to seem to work, the timing is completely different, and the characters is so strange and varied that you won't be able to make out who's the "Ken and Ryu" of the game.
It's a conscious choice by the developer Arc System Works, who have previously proven themselves in the genre with the Guilty Gear series. To help out beginners they have put together an enormous tutorial, where every little detail of the game is explained. Everything from simple movement, to the timing of super attacks, and the optimal use of "Drive" attacks are explained, and if you have the patience to learn all of this you are well equipped to tackle the main game.
If you afford yourself the time to check out the manual, you may wonder why I recommend using the time on the tutorial, because the fighting system is very logical. Attacks are divided in weak, medium, strong and Drive, the latter is a unique feature for each character. Drive-attacks should be the first things you explore, as they largely define the character you have chosen, some will heal your character while others add extra strength to attacks. A Drive attack can also be charged up to a "Distortion Drive" attack, a sort of special attack, that eats up a large chunk of the health bar if you manage to land it.
With these basic techniques in place you will soon realise that Blazblue: Continuum Shift offers more depth than you would think at first glance. Techniques such as air cancels, taunts and guard cancels, that you may know from other games are also included but with their own unique twist. If you learn all that Blazblue has to offer, you will find the most fluid fighting game ever, where every move can be linked with either an offensive or defensive move. The system is almost limitless, and therefore there is an enormous amount of techniques and combinations to learn.
Instead of trying to create characters made up by polygons, Arc System Works have chosen to continue working with beautiful 2D models as they did in the Guilty Gear series. Blazblue sports and incredibly varied selection of fighters, all beautifully coloured and animated. Not only does it look great, but it also offers the developer the option of creating large size differences between characters something Arc System Works have taken advantage of. Unfortunately the backgrounds of the game are made up by polygons, something we have seen previously in the genre, and once again I find that the mix isn't all that pleasing to the eyes even if the backdrops are pretty on their own.
Despite the fact that the game offers several difficulty levels, I would have wished for a more advanced artificial intelligence that would provide more varied attacks. I know that when it comes to games like this, the single player option is mainly there to let you practise moves before facing off in exciting player versus player fights, but it could still be much better than what we're getting here. It's something of a revelation to experience a fight with a good human opponent and realise just how a certain character can be put to use.
I find it hard to decide whether Blazblue: Continuum Shift is a good place for someone new to the genre to start. There is a massive number of techniques to learn in order to get the maximum experience out of the game, but then again most of them are only needed on the higher difficulty levels or against live opponents. On top of that you can learn most of it in the extensive tutorial, and the train hard until you've mastered them.
For those of us who have train long and hard on games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Samurai Showdown there is a bit of a transition to Blazblue: Continuum Shift. Everything isn't exactly what it seems. But with a bit of patience you will unlock hours of entertainment buried deep within the advanced fighting system.
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