Its not very often you see a game where the main character is a bad-ass orange haired Death God- who's Japanese name, correct me if I am wrong, is 'Strawberry'- wielding a sword embedded with a soul. And its not very often that you see me create such a poor lead-in to a review. So let me cut the word-padding and go straight to part you are interested in: the review. May I present to you Bleach Shattered Blade: the video-game adaptation of the latest cult Japanese animation to make a big impact in the west.
Like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto, the very core of Bleach is fighting. So in no way is it surprising to see that this adaptation is your standard Beat 'em Up- not a bad thing in my opinion: too many times we have seen shoddy attempts to emulate the feeling of playing through an episode of our favourite TV shows. But like most anime based games, Bleach is almost instantly typcasted into the grey area that most gamers instantly dismiss- the hardcore fan niche. But I urge any of you who are interested in Beat 'em Ups to read on- after all, asides from the creators, who has ever understood the stories in Tekken, Dead Or Alive, Mortal Kombat, et al? (And if you do want to learn about Bleach, just watch the show or consult Wikipedia.)
Of course, there is still a story mode to this game- Honestly though, its about as deep as my affinity for dressing up like a Barbie dolls (I'm on a roll with these bad lead-ins, sorry). You basically have to fight a whole host of characters in order to collect shards from a sword so that you can fix something amiss in that particular characters life... and, well, that's it really. You'll have about 5mins of dialogue, if that, and it's pretty much all pre and post fight banter- dubbed totally out of sync, unfortunately. So I still stand by my opinion that you really do not need to understand Bleach to play this game.
All the rest of the story mode is just fight after fight- pretty ideal seeing as this is a Beat 'em Up. Each fight becomes progressively harder, and the dubbing always keeps its hilarious quality - think of one of those poorly dubbed old movies, but with a two second delay on the audio. You've also got an arcade mode (think story mode, only with less chit chat), VS modes (1P vs 2P), and a quick little training tutorial that you will breeze though in seconds.
The mechanics of fights in Bleach are fairly simple- which is not a bad thing: You move with the analogue stick, dash with the C Button, block with Z, strike by flinging the Wiimote about (holding A or B for stronger, unblockable, attacks), charge your Bankai gauge by shaking the Nunchuck, and unleash your Bankai by flicking the Nunchuck. And that's as complicated as it all gets. The range and power of each characters attack depends on their weapon, as do the Banakis- this gives tacticians out there a chance to choose the optimal character for their fighting style. Bankais themselves are pretty much the Uber attacks you expected them to be, what with their special attacks decimating around 1/4 of the opponents health bar. There isn't really much else I can say on the controls, it really is pick up and play.
The simplicity of the controls allows for incredibly fast paced battles, but it also reduces the skill level required. There are not thousands of combinations to pull off, and you do not have to use precision when blocking- what we have here is the casual gamers Beat 'em Up: something that can be picked up in seconds and played to a decent standard. I personally liked being able to come in from a days work, plop down in front of my TV, and play a casual fighter that does not require me to remember an absurd amount of combinations in order to be anywhere near good. I loved the fact that after two hours play I became a veteran of the game.
One thing I especially appreciated about Shattered Blade was how the fighting was balanced: If you found yourself on the other end of a jolly good hiding your Bankai gauge would most likely reach its peak a few moments before your opponents would- giving you a good chance of clawing your way back into the match. I suppose in a sense it is not fair to award the weaker character, but I personally find that it makes for much closer competition in the game.
As expected with all Beat 'em Ups, you unlock characters and stages as you progress through the various game modes. All in all, there are an impressive 32 characters available for combat, each with their own individual styles and Banakis. To get every character would take you around 10 hours of play, and then there are a few other things such as character consumes, artwork, and voices you can acquire too. Some of this stuff is brought through the store- which, to be honest, I though it a bit of a waste of time buying character art. I suppose the die hard fans will appreciate being able to view the artwork, but the shop is a wasted idea really. More costumes would have been a nice touch, albeit small, touch to the game. Because it seems that, while the base elements are there in Bleach, the level of fine tuning we expect to see isn't there.
Scoring this game was actually a hard thing for me to do because there are a few points where opinions will be divided. Firstly, we have the fact that Bleach is an anime; to be honest though, there is so little tie-in to the series (asides from the characters, of course) that this should be overlooked. Secondly, its by no means a sophisticated/complicated Beat 'em Up; you will learn the few combinations in seconds- which is great for the casual gamer, not so great for the hardcore gamer. Finally, there is not much in the way of unlockables ; you have the stages, characters, a meager helping of costumes later on, and lots of artwork- some of you won't mind this, but I know others will.
I would say that Bleach Shattered Blade is a perfectly suited game for those who have never got on with the standard 'press A,B,Z,C+A,B,Z,+A,C in order to do a semi-decent attack' approach that most Beat 'em Ups seem to adopt. What we have is the casual gamers fighter to the core- something that anyone will be able to pick up with ease. The lack of depth and fine tuning does dent the appeal of the game slightly, but the base gameplay is decent enough to still make the experience worthwhile. Don't expect greatness, but expect a bit of fun.