There are lots of one-on-one fighters on Switch, many of which have been released as part of HAMSTER’s ACA Neo Geo series. The Last Blade 2 is another one, giving you a selection of fighters to pick from as you engage in a series of best of three-round fights en route to a showdown with an overpowered final big bad. It may not be filling a gap in the marketplace (and the excellent first game is already available on the eShop), but it shouldn’t be dismissed as it does said fighting very well indeed.
The 12 playable characters from the first game have made it across although the twin-blade wielding Shikyoh has died and returned as the twin-blade wielding zombie Mukuro. Previous end bad guy Kagami is now selectable and there are also three newcomers. As before, the game uses two strengths of weapon attack - a kick button and a repel one - which, with careful timing, can be used to deflect your opponent's attack and hopefully launch a counteroffensive.
There’s good variety amongst the fighters, with the range of blades (small and large), clubs and other weapons giving you different options to try out, whilst Lee mainly favours his fists and feet, occasionally calling on a flaming fan blade. The two fighting styles (Power and Speed) return giving you something else to consider after choosing your fighter.
The Power mode is a good way to break through your opponent's defensives and allows for extra powerful Super Desperation moves should the power gauge be filled. Regular desperation moves are also available with this mode as well as in the Speed one. Speed allows for easier combos as well as special Speed Combos should the power gauge be full. This game also introduces a third 'Ultimate' fighting style (hidden but detailed in the electronic manual) that combines the other two, but at the cost of greatly reduced defensive capabilities. It can lead to swift victory, but also humiliating defeat.
Released eight years after the Neo Geo hardware debuted, SNK knew how to get the best out of the system at this point and so The Last Blade 2 impresses visually, improving on an already stunning first game. Adopting an animated look, the character designs are good, but the fluid animation really helps immerse you in the fights as characters twist around and leap across the screen finding new ways to smack each other about. The various character yells, grunts and different weapon clash and impact noises also help to sell the experience.
There’s a good selection of locations fought on from countrysides to villages and battlefields and burning buildings. There’s lots of detail in the surroundings and good effects like a heat shimmer, scenery reflected in shallow water you are fighting in, grass swaying in the breeze and birds and insects in the air. Subtle camera zooms during fights work well and the music also impresses. There’s a good mix of styles ranging from waltz-like to sombre and adventurous, whilst other times there’s no music at all and the backing track is simply the local wildlife or rushing water.
Playing through the game is a joy as, like its predecessor, there are a number of ways in which fights can play out. You may find yourself exchanging heavy strikes in close-combat, dashing to get the odd move in, keeping the opponent at bay with projectiles or spying an opportunity for a devastating combo attack. Or something else entirely. Your dashing attacks as well as knowing when to block or go for a repel lead to a number of options during fights and even rounds against the same opponent can offer up a different challenge.
If there’s one downside to the game, it’s the lack of balance. The first game balanced the line-up well, but here tweaks and changes have thrown things off. Liked playing as Yuki in the first game? Well, expect to lose a lot more this time around. Of course, this is a bigger problem in two-player matches as in single player you can just enjoy the challenge of battling towards your ending with a weaker character such as Okina. You could also use a stronger character such as Zantetsu as you get to know the game or if you just feel like powering through.
New final boss Kouryu has some very powerful moves that can quickly end your challenge, but generally, the game is quite fair on its default difficulty. As always with these releases there are options for things like button remapping and adding scanlines to the image. The number of rounds can be adjusted, allowing for single round fights or increasing to best of five affairs. The speed the timer counts down can also be adjusted and 'brutal depictions' can be turned off if you’d like less violence; there are blood spurts in the game and final blows can be fatal.
HAMSTER’s usual Hi Score and Caravan modes are here, giving you one credit and five minutes respectively to score as highly as possible to try and move up the online leaderboards. Seeking to improve your point scoring doesn’t have quite the same appeal as just winning more fights, so there’s more replayability from the two-player mode; the second player is able to buy into the regular arcade mode at any time to challenge you.
There are a few secrets on the character select screen (again listed in the electronic manual), the most fun of which is playing as Hagure. Usually, a spirit that appears during Akari’s battles, here Hagure takes on the form of your opponent, turning each fight of your playthrough into a mirror match. There’s also a hidden Time Attack mode. This one isn’t mentioned in the electronic manual. Simply hold all four attack buttons and pressing Start ('R' on Switch) and you will gain you access to it. Here you simply defeat as many opponents as possible before the 90-second timer reaches zero.
Like most fighters in the ACA Neo Geo range, there isn't much appeal in the Hi Score or Caravan modes, but that doesn't really matter when the regular game is so enjoyable. Like its predecessor, The Last Blade 2 seemingly simple combat system has a lot of depth allowing for plenty of options in fights with the good selection of fighters and different fighting modes. This game adds a third fighting mode and has some extra characters compared to the first game. Where that first game has the edge, however, is in the fighter balancing. If you'd only like one Last Blade title on your Switch it's a choice between fair fights or more fighting options, but really both Last Blade titles offer varied, enjoyable, engrossing fighting action with superb audio-visual presentation.