NEXT Studios' Bladed Fury is a side-scrolling hack 'n slash platformer set in the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history, an era characterized by endless warfare and high political drama that's been nicely infused here with a hefty dose of mythology and the supernatural. This is a game with a few good ideas up its sleeves, one that manages to nail its Muramasa-esque art style, gets its atmosphere just right, but then fails to raise its combat and platforming action anywhere above absolutely bang average — a factor which is then exacerbated by constant, nagging performance issues that drag the whole affair down further.
Bladed Fury tells the tale of Ji Jiang, daughter of the reigning Duke Kang of Qi, who's been framed by her family's rival clan, the Tians, for the duke's murder at the outset of the game, she must now set out to avenge his death whilst also making a bid to rescue her imprisoned sister, Shu. In order to best the Tians, Ji must confront several witnesses to the Duke's death, destroy them, consume their souls and use their powers to restore order to the land. Just your average day out in ancient China, then.
In terms of mechanics, there's really nothing you haven't seen before here when it comes to the general ebb and flow of moment-to-moment combat. Ji is equipped with a light attack assigned to her flashy Fiendbane blades and a heavier assault that utilises her enormous Crimson Mass greatsword — a sword which can also be used to deflect projectiles. You have a shield, known here as Aegis, which can block attacks or be used to perfectly parry enemies in order to open them up to a handful of special attacks, and a dodge ability that grants temporary immunity as you dash your way through incoming assaults. There's an upgrade system, collecting yellow orbs from fallen foes allows you to unlock enhancements and additional moves, but again, it's all pretty bog-standard stuff and in all honesty we spent most of the game hacking away at enemies with just one or two moves, completely forgetting we had a shield to parry with as the enemy AI just never really requires that you mix things up or bother using it.
Where Bladed Fury does manage to come into its own slightly with regards to combat is in its addition of a Soul Sliver mechanic, enabling you to utilise special powers absorbed by each of the bosses you defeat as you make your way through the game towards a showdown with the Tians. By holding in ZR and pressing a face button Ji can select from any four of six Soul Sliver powers, allowing her to, for example, create a black hole which pulls enemies into the centre of the screen, rain arrows down on her foes, summon a spider whose webs slow the movement of all onscreen enemies or even equip a huge (and historically accurate) mech-cannon to fire off a ferociously damaging shot. It’s a neat mechanic, and one that certainly looks the part as you fire off these screen-shaking specials, however, much like the rest of the combat in the game, it’s let down by plodding enemies, a lack of challenge and level design that feels lazy and repetitive.
As you progress through Bladed Fury you’ll face off against a selection of enemies who, besides a handful of decent boss encounters, fail to provide any sort of meaningful challenge or force you to get creative with the weapons and skills you’ve got at your disposal. Yes, you’ll come up against foes who have armour that needs stripping away with your Crimson Mass before they’ll take any damage, you'll occasionally be required to parry projectiles back towards their source or even hop over the shields of larger foes in order to attack them from behind but honestly, that’s pretty much all you get in terms of enemy variety here. It really is all left down to the boss encounters and, although they do a better job of providing you with something to think about, they’re compromised in this Switch port by a frame rate that just cannot deal with busy onscreen action.
During run-of-the-mill encounters and boss battles alike, the frame rate here is a constant issue, sometimes a minor annoyance, but often a real stuttering mess when things get even halfway heated, it really takes the shine off proceedings and results in a game that just doesn’t feel anywhere nearly polished enough on Nintendo's hybrid console. As Ji’s story progresses the ante is eventually upped in terms of difficulty, with the last half hour’s miniboss rush gauntlet providing the kind of challenge we’d have liked to see from the get-go, but it’s all so stuttery by this point that you’ll likely find yourself succumbing to foes repeatedly due to mistimed shots and blocks or failed platforming attempts on account of these framerate problems. Further to this, moving from screen to screen as you advance through levels incurs a few seconds of empty black screen as the next area loads (not something we expect to see in a side-scrolling action game these days), we suffered several full crashes to our home screen during pivotal boss encounters, and there’s also an issue with Ji’s death animation that sees the screen fade to black just as, or even before, she’s dealt a final blow, meaning you never actually get to see exactly what killed you. It’s an odd one.
Elsewhere, although there are a handful of good ideas here with regards to level design — one area charges you with collecting special stones and inserting them into a central map in order to unlock progress through its corridors, for example — in practice everything just feels rushed and totally bereft of any real challenge. There are often multiple routes to investigate through areas, as indicated by a rather bland and basic map, but taking the time to explore these never leads to anything satisfying, there are no secrets or rewards to find beyond the odd bundle of boring upgrade orbs to pick up for your efforts. Platforming is of the most basic variety too, environmental traps consist of nothing more than the odd rotating flame here and there or maybe a spiked wall that moves on a timer and, in the end, it just feels like a lack of genuine effort was made outside of the game's admittedly pretty art style.
Overall then, Bladed Fury has got a few things going for it. It certainly looks the part, there’s plenty of style on display as you cut through the state of Qi, Ji’s story is involving enough stuff and the final half hour (of the total of three hours it took us to complete) ups the ante to a level of difficulty that’s much more satisfying. However, a lack of any real challenge, dull level design, lacklustre enemy AI and constant technical issues on Switch mean that this one really is hard to recommend in the end. All the pieces are here, they just haven't been assembled very well.
Bladed Fury is a good-looking hack 'n slash platformer that tells a decent tale and is set in an engrossing period of history that's been nicely infused here with mythological and supernatural elements. It's Soul Sliver mechanic adds plenty of scope for strategic combat shenanigans and its levels have a few good ideas thrown into the mix. However, all of these positive aspects are let down by poor implementation, dull enemies who don't force you to utilise your moveset, bland and repetitive area layouts, simplistic platforming and constant technical issues that plague combat just as it's starting to up the ante. If the framerate issues are addressed this one may be worth a look for fans of the genre, otherwise it's hard to recommend in its current state.