When a popular anime receives a video game adaptation, more often than not it's some form of arena fighter. On Switch alone, we've already seen the likes of My Hero One's Justice, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 and more transform hit anime licenses into enjoyable spectacle fighters. With a sea of competitors, does Arc System Works' latest arena fighter (developed by the studio APlus, which was also responsible for the likes of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time) Kill La Kill: IF, deserve a place in your Switch library?
Simply put, that would depend upon your knowledge of the original Kill La Kill anime. Unlike the newcomer-friendly introductions of mainstream arena fighters like Naruto or Dragon Ball, players are immediately thrown into a confusing set-piece event that will leave newbies utterly bewildered. A short introductory voice-over attempts to fill you in on the story’s foundations, but those who don't have at least a basic understanding of the anime should fill themselves in before attempting to jump in.
Surprisingly, for a fighting game, there’s a huge focus on providing fans with a satisfying narrative. Overseen by the original creators and amazing animation studio TRIGGER, Kill La Kill: IF offers fans the first official piece of original narrative content since the anime's finale. It certainly starts strong; beginning with a high-calibre, action-packed opener, IF wastes absolutely no time in throwing players straight into the thick of it.
Unlike most games based on anime properties, A+'s fighter is designed as a “What If” scenario that starts partway through the original narrative. Instead of entirely focusing on series protagonist Ryuko Matoi, players will spend a great deal of time playing as student council president Satsuki Kiryuin. The further you play through the four-or-so-hour campaign, the more apparent the narrative differences are; every event seems more fan-service-y than the last.
Kill La Kill: IF does a fantastic job to make sure each character's personality is perfectly represented, so you get an idea of what they're about even if you've never seen the original anime. While only a few appear even somewhat likeable as real human beings, their motivations are clear. While we won't spoil it here, certain events down the line will manage to both hype fans up and make at least a lone tear escape from their eyes. It's nothing extraordinary, but it's at the very least well-executed.
Taking into account the fighting game pedigree of Guilty Gear developer Arc System Works, which is publishing the game (in North America and Japan, at least), Kill La Kill: IF should be a masterful shakeup the genre surely needs. With Arc System Works’ near-perfect entries in the 2D fighting game genre providing gamers with some of the best examples of virtual fisticuffs you can get, we were hoping that the arena fighter would finally receive a technical, balanced and rewarding entry. Unfortunately, Kill La Kill: IF stands as one of the weakest fighters we've played in quite some time.
Unlike the technically deep fighting mechanics found in Guilty Gear, this title is effectively a three-button fighter in a 3D space. Each of the game's ten playable characters has access to a short-range attack, long-range attack and a guard break. Every move is conveyed with style; firing off an onslaught of combos results in gorgeous sparks and hit effects filling the screen, sometimes at the cost of smooth performance.
Just like most fighters, landing and taking attacks will fill up a super meter that will allow you to use powerful special attacks. Each attack is lavishly animated: gorgeous 24fps animated sequences open each move with build-up, weight and satisfying hit effects. Unavoidable gratuitous camera angles merge with grossly indecent outfit designs to create an extreme level of sexualization that some will feel is alluring, but most will surely find off-putting. Not one to play in front of your family, then.
If the insanely sexualized character designs don’t matter to you, Kill La Kill: IF is a fantastic-looking title on Nintendo Switch – even when blown up on a large TV. Performance does suffer in places; most of the game’s major fights involve numerous characters all duking it out in one arena which can noticeably tank performance in both docked and portable mode. 1v1 fights don’t fall as far below, but a rock-solid framerate is seemingly off the table here. With a small lineup of just six arenas to fight in, repetition kicks in far too soon for a fighting game.
Dash mechanics and an intriguing 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' mechanic attempt to keep fights intriguing, but a shoddy camera and uncontrollable lock-on make a lot of the fights feel frustrating to play through. Any match that involves more than a 1-on-1 match-up is an exercise in patience. Most of the extra modes consisting of unsatisfying group fights.
Outside of fighting, there’s nothing that will keep players entertained for long. Playing through fights will earn you gold that can be used to unlock music, 3D dioramas and more. While the extra fluff is appreciated, they’re simply extra unlockables that you need to grind to access.
Unless you’re a fan of the anime, Kill La Kill: IF is not the game for you. While the story mode is beautifully presented, it’s not as lengthy or engaging as the hours-long experiences offered by other arena fighters. While the potential of an Arc System Works arena fighter sounds promising (even if it was only publishing in this case), this 3D fighting game ends up being a bigger disappointment than many of its contemporaries. The visuals are pristine, the animation is gorgeous, but everything else feels barren. Kill La Kill: IF feels like a budget title – too bad it costs $50.