Although the DS has witnessed some truly amazing titles in its lifetime, one genre that has singularly failed to translate effectively to the format is the fighting game. While the PSP has experienced some particularly impressive brawlers (despite its woeful d-pad which is put firmly in the shade by the one showcased on Nintendo’s portable console), the DS has seen little in the way of quality examples of this most ancient of gaming styles. Thankfully, with the release of Bleach: Blade of Fate, this is all set to change.
Now, we’d like to proclaim this game as something akin to the Second Coming, but it’s hard to act like we’re totally shocked about the high standard of Bleach DS. You see, the Japanese version has been available since 2006 and the American edition saw publication in ’07, so it’s not like the game has arrived on European shores by surprise. While we’re loath to endure the often insulting waiting times Euro Nintendo fans suffer, in this case it’s certainly an instance of good things coming to those who wait.
Bleach DS is based on the anime series of the same name. It features the hallmarks of every classic anime franchise: swords, spiky hair and lots of shouting. We’re not going to bore you with the storyline but suffice to say it gives the ideal excuse for lots of samurai-related action, and even more shouting.
While the power of the Bleach brand is undeniably strong (the series is currently enjoying a fair degree of success Stateside), for seasoned gamers the appeal of the game lies elsewhere. It’s developed by legendary Japanese code shop Treasure (Sin & Punishment, Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes) and this fact alone is enough to jettison it to the top of many a gaming enthusiast’s shopping list. Treasure rarely disappoint and Bleach DS is a slick production that manages to keep the company’s lofty reputation sky high.
Fundamentally, it’s a 2D fighting game akin to the likes of Street Fighter 2 or SNK’s Samurai Shodown. You have access to special moves, super moves, counter attacks and other hallmarks of the one-on-one fighting game genre, but a few unique additions help to set Bleach DS apart from other games on the marketplace. It’s possible to face off against three other opponents at any one time, for example. To make things manageable, you can jump between two different planes of movement in a similar fashion to SNK’s Fatal Fury series. Also, you have the opportunity to utilize Spirit Cards, which have various effects on both yourself and your opponents. For example, one card prevents your rival from jumping for a short period of time, and another removes their ability to switch planes. These cards are limited in supply and their effect is fleeting, but when used correctly they can turn the tide of a bout.
Bleach DS is packed with play modes, but the real meat of the game is the Story aspect. Playing in this mode you follow several routes through the game’s plot, with your performance in battle having a direct effect on which path you will take. It’s an original concept that works surprisingly well; although some of the mission aims come across as somewhat vague until you familiarize yourself with the game’s lingo. It’s also a little infuriating when you end up going around in circles and fighting the same characters over and over, but with a little thought and effort these minor issues are easily overcome. Successful progress through this mode is rewarded with additional Spirit Cards, which can be added to a deck of 15, two of which are randomly selected during a fight. When you use one, another card is picked from the deck, and so on. It all sounds depressingly like Pokemon, but it really isn’t.
The combat engine featured here is nothing short of brilliant. Control is silky-smooth and responsive, with only a few seconds being required before you pick up the various moves available. Treasure has wisely kept special move commands simple, so they can be confidently accessed during a particularly grueling scrap. The company’s effort to make the game as accessible as possible is further evidenced by the inclusion of touch screen shortcuts. Tapping these will instantly execute a special move or super, but it’s worth noting that they deplete the spirit meter, which is also drained by performing plane shifts and other important activities.
The single player aspect of Bleach DS is wonderful, then. However, it’s likely that you’ll be spending just as much time in the multiplayer portion of the game. Up to four players can duke it out using Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection service and although the action can get rather laggy when there’s a full compliment of fighters, one-on-one bouts are incredible fun thanks to the depth of the fighting engine.
We knew Bleach DS was going to be special but even so, we’re quite frankly blown away by the quality of the final product. Treasure has undoubtedly done it again, producing a game that offers irresistible action as well as long-term appeal. If you count yourself as a fighting game fan then you simply must pick this game up; if the genre has never interested you in the past then this could be the ideal opportunity to give it a chance.