It must be tough being a developer in the roguelite space these days. The absolute explosion of popularity this genre has enjoyed over the past several years has led to an impressive number of innovative new titles that find cool ways to create new play experiences or reinterpret old ones, but competition has never been higher and the quality bar is only going up. Unfortunately, Blade Assault does not meet that bar. It feels like it rolled off the conveyor belt after someone asked ChatGPT to make a ‘difficult, 2D action roguelite.’ For some players, that might honestly be enough, but you can find games more worthy of your time.
Blade Assault places you in the role of an angry dude named Kil who, erm, wants to kill the people responsible for overseeing the military utopia of Esperanza. After taking a swing in the first few minutes following a prison break, Kil is soundly outclassed by his rivals and cast out of the magnificent floating community down to the mutant-infested pits of the undercity far below. Narrowly surviving this incident and angrier than ever, Kil then joins with a resistance that’s formed between other misfits and begins his long journey back up to finish the job.
It's a simple enough premise, and if Blade Assault could allow it to stay that way it would be fine, but the game takes itself way too seriously while falling completely flat in its attempts to make you care about any of its characters. Kil, for example, is the epitome of the edgy, Shadow The Hedgehog-esque loner with a one-dimensional personality. This by itself wouldn’t matter all that much in a typical roguelite, but Blade Assault makes some weak attempts at conveying that there’s a much larger tragic history between him and Esperanza’s ruler, without actually putting in the work to make it mean anything. The game thus occupies this weird space where it’s never quite clear if the writing is intentionally vague and kind of silly or if you’re supposed to take it seriously. Either way, it doesn't work.
On the gameplay front, Blade Assault follows the 2D action-roguelite playbook quite closely. You advance from stage to stage cutting down anything that moves while gradually accruing upgrades and equipment that differ each run, then eventually lose it all when you die and get sent back to the beginning. Before your next run, you can then use various currencies to improve relationships with helpful NPCs, or to buy new permanent upgrades to make future runs a little easier. It’s a simple loop that’s been well-tested by now, and while Blade Assault doesn’t add anything meaningful or new to the formula, it still works quite well here.
Each basic stage is broken up into roughly two halves. The first has you clear the room of any baddies without dying yourself, while the second has you do it again but with higher stakes. See, the enemies that come in the second half are generally stronger, and as long as at least one of them is alive, a Risk of Rain-esque “Danger Level” meter will keep creeping up. Danger Level persists throughout your run and your life will generally become a whole lot worse the higher it goes, though the enhanced foes it creates do act as a great source for finding rarer currencies at higher volume. We appreciated the dynamic difficulty added by Danger Level, as there are benefits to both keeping it either as low or high as possible.
Once you clear a room, you’ll usually be offered a reward that lets you advance and dial in your character’s build. There are three main element classes—fire, ice, and lightning—and each of these has a suite of unique abilities and effects, such as lightning attacks chaining to nearby enemies or fire attacks giving most enemies a burn debuff. Learning how the different abilities and stat boosts interact with each other adds a lot to each run, as you’re almost certain to have a unique build every time you go out, and it feels great when you find some nice synergies to abuse for future runs. Even so, it feels like the pool of potential pickups is rather limited, which hinders variety between runs. Hopefully, patches will be forthcoming and the devs can continue to build this out.
Aside from equipment and upgrades, the biggest way to change your playstyle between runs is simply to pick another playable character. Though it takes a bit of time playing as Kil before they’re available, you can eventually unlock three other characters who each feel quite distinct.
Darcy, for example, trades Kil’s big chainsaw-sword for an elegant katana; her playstyle revolves around outmaneuvering enemies with deft acrobatics and slicing them to ribbons with rapid-fire cuts. Though Kil feels like the most fleshed-out character—he can eventually unlock two other weapons that notably change his combat approach—we still appreciated what these other characters bring to the table. Everyone feels viable in their own way and adds another dimension to consider when strategizing over potential drops from the loot pool; something that is merely good on a run with Jenny may be great if it drops when Darcy is active.
While character variety is welcome, it only does so much to sharpen the middling combat system. The issue here is that it can be quite difficult to track where your character is and what they’re doing when you’re being swarmed by over a dozen enemies who are all using flashy elemental attacks, which happens all the time. There’s nothing wrong with a little chaos in a roguelite, but here it simply feels out of control and gets in the way of enjoying the gameplay. Worse yet, we ran into many instances where enemies (especially bosses) felt way too spongy for the current difficulty level—it’s simply not fun to chip away for nearly ten minutes at a boss with a Blissey-level health pool while they can kill you in just a few good hits and end a run that you’ve been at for over an hour. Combat thus feels rather sloppy and quickly becomes tiresome as its problems mount over many runs, which is bad news when 90% of your time with Blade Assault is spent in combat.
The main issue with Blade Assault, though, isn’t so much about what it has as what it doesn’t, which is something unique to set it apart from the pack. Blade Assault is competent at offering up a tough, action-packed roguelite experience, but the problem is that there are a lot of other games that offer the same thing, but simply better. As we played through Blade Assault, it never managed to fully answer the question of why someone would choose to play it over, say, Dead Cells or Rogue Legacy or Hades. Blade Assault shares a lot of commonalities with these games, but it adds nothing meaningful and never approaches their highs. It’s the kind of game that feels like it drew heavily upon everything that worked in such other games without stopping to consider why they worked in each case.
Blade Assault also comes up short in its presentation. The 16-bit art style on display is passable, but the animations are quite simplistic and the pixel art looks too basic when compared to peers like UnderMine or One Step From Eden. These visuals could be forgiven if performance was solid, but Blade Assault drops the ball there, too. The Switch version appears to target 30 FPS, but we noted many instances as the screen filled up where there were huge drops, sometimes outright pausing the action onscreen as the game wheezed trying to load everything.
It feels like Blade Assault could be a good game with a few more years of focused, iterative development, but what we have today doesn’t quite cut it. Its uninspired visuals, chaotic combat, and overall lack of identity all work against it in a popular and overcrowded genre. Though it passably executes on the basic blueprint of an action roguelite and it can be fun to buildcraft around its cast of playable characters, Blade Assault simply doesn’t do enough to justify a spot in your library. If you’re absolutely fiending for another roguelite and somehow haven’t been satisfied by the extensive selection of excellent titles already on Switch, then maybe this is worth a punt.
Most unfortunate. I typically like the games PM Studios publishes. But this is $35 better spent elsewhere it seems.
I'm usually fine with a good enough game that doesn't do that much to set itself apart, but the key is the game has to be good enough in the right ways.
I bought Neon Abyss on sale a while back and it's a fun to play game that doesn't push the rogue-like envelope, but it's competent and enjoyable for a diversion. This one sounds like it got one or two things right but missed the mark on too many others.
Dammit, I’ll wait for a sale. I’ve been quietly dying for this one. Bummed…
In the last 2 years roguelite has gone from a niche tag to the point where it's basically more efferent to just mention if a game ISN'T roguelite. Between run progression isn't a gimmick that can put your game on the map any more, in the same way skill trees were once a really cool idea and not something we just expect.
Going to be a LOT of titles that started development back when rougelite was enough to make them special that are going to release to a resounding thud in the current saturated marketplace. This is one of them.
They buy it. It's not objectively bad if you were looking forward to it and already intreated. It's just very, very difficult to recommend if you are a rougelite fan picking this up instead of other offerings in that space.
I bought this for like 1 euro on eneba for steam... and didn't really go past chapter 1, which consisted of one run. It was just very... generic, I guess. Visuals were nice enough but the combat did indeed just feel 'off' and the progression and vibe wasn't interesting enough to put in the work. Especially as someone who doesn't like roguelikes.
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