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BlazBlue: Continuum Shift review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Radical character design
  • Wildly inventive gameplay
  • Excellent online capability
  • Steep learning curve
  • Excessively noisy matches
  • Incredibly cheesy single player bosses

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift (CS) is nothing if not honest, even in the basic tutorial the game’s 12 year old Gothic Lolita berates you for your lack of skill and “The vast rotting expanse you call your head”. Essentially, it’s a perfect microcosm of BlazBlue: If you’re not willing to suffer a little in order to have fun, you might want to look elsewhere. CS is unapologetically Japanese both in its style and approach, offering up a carnival’s worth of fascinatingly bizarre characters while demanding some skill from the player to get the most out of them.


Above: You get one guess to figure out what country popularized sexy nuns with guns

That’s not to say the game is impenetrable for newcomers, CS features a simplified “beginner mode” control scheme that rewards newbies with push button special moves and automatically timed combos. It works better with some characters than others, but for the absolute beginner it makes the game less overwhelming; tap some buttons, have some fun. The new Tutorial mode is also a welcome addition, covering the basics and explaining the game's myriad systems and gauges. Continuum Shift's Challenge mode actually manages to one-up SFIV's Trial mode, giving the player detailed descriptions and video playback on how to do each challenge while actually helping you learn how to use each character.

BlazBlue’s strongest suit, much like its Arc System Works sibling Guilty Gear, is its radically inventive character design, both visually and technically. Characters in this game instantly stand out, and the radical color selections make them even more stunning. If there’s a case for what can be done with modern hardware and pixel art, this is it. From the “No-Face” like Arakune to the neo-robo samurai Hakumen, every character is gorgeous and stunningly animated, but it’s not just the character’s visual differences that make them individual. Even Street Fighter’s strongest supporters will admit that the game’s diverse roster contains some almost-duplicates, characters that are different, but share the bulk of their playstyle with other characters. BlazBlue can’t be accused of the same; each character in the game feels totally unique and most offer radical, bizarre tactical options.


Above: "Whadda ya mean you're 13?!?

The game itself sticks to the kind of combo-centric  play that Arc System games are famous for, which means that unless you’re playing as the bruiser Iron Tager, individual hits won’t do very much damage; combos, even the most basic ones, are essential to winning. Unlike other fighters, CS doesn’t place a lot of value in projectiles; most do little damage and are designed to get you into a combo or counter an opponent. Matches are far more aerial in CS, and the characters much too speedy to be pressured with fireballs.

CS holds onto the same control scheme as Calamity Trigger: Light, Medium, Strong, Special/Drive attack buttons. The drive button is similar to Super Smash Bros’ in that it unleashes a character specific move, usually depending on what direction you push. In the case of Carl Clover, the Drive button allows him to independently control his huge robotic puppet in the background, giving him the ability to attack opponents from two sides at once. If that sounds deadly, it’s because it is, but learning how to position yourself and your robot to take advantage of the tactic is harder than it sounds. Other character’s special button attacks are more conventional, like special sword strikes or unique counter moves. Figuring out each character’s Drive attack gives you a good insight into how they’re supposed to be played and where their strengths lie.

CS features a lot of single player modes, including Arcade, Story, Challenge, Legion and Score Attack to keep solo players busy. The new Legion single player mode, taken from the PSP version of BlazBlue, plays like a mini military strategy game; you battle squads of characters on a map, bolstering your ranks with defeated foes. Legion mode forces you to choose between sacrificing characters you’re bad with versus putting your preferred characters at risk; damage is cumulative in this mode, so there’s constant pressure. The Story mode is actually well conceived, especially for a fighting game, and features tons of spoken dialogue and plot explaining the game’s lore and the characters’ allegiances/motivations. Whether or not you’ll enjoy the plot depends on how many anime tropes and clichés you can stomach, but for those that enjoy the genre and want to get into the universe, it’s well presented.


Even more painful than the sword slash was the epileptic fit from all the visual effects

While CS has its fundamentals locked down, it's hampered by some quirks: the game features much stricter special move inputs than SSFIV, especially when trying to perform Distortion Drive (Super) attacks; it almost seems like the faster you perform the input the less likely it is to work. It’s a minor quibble, but one that takes some getting used to; slowly and precisely inputting a command for a Super attack in the heat of battle does not come naturally. The game also features an excessive amount of voice effects during matches. Every time a character performs one of the game’s techniques, like a counter, the narrator will yell “Counter!” combine this with the characters themselves spouting some gibberish every time they get hit or use a special attack, and every match quickly becomes a blathering cacophony of noise. CS also suffers from the industry standard "smash a controller, throw your TV out the window" final bosses that read your moves and automatically counter anything you do.

Any modern fighting game needs solid online support, and like its predecessor Calamity Trigger, CS has it in spades. The matches we played online seemed choppy during the loading screen, but as soon as the fight actually started they were smooth as butter. Of course your online experience will vary depending on your connection, but don’t blame the netcode, it’s solid. CS also offers excellent options for finding games online, an area in which Capcom should definitely be taking notes.

Continuum Shift improves on Calamity Trigger in every way, and it's undoubtedly one of the best fighting games available; it oozes style, incorporates some truly radical ideas into its gameplay and sports a level of polish not always seen in fighting games. For players who feel they have a handle on 2D Fighters, CS offers an advanced course, bending the genre's core concepts to their breaking points and forcing you to think, and play, in new ways. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift isn't just a worthy alternative to SSFIV, it's a genuine competitor.

July 27, 2010

More Info

Release date: Jul 27 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Fighting
Published by: Aksys Games
Developed by: ARC System Works
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence

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20 comments

  • RebornKusabi - August 3, 2010 10:36 p.m.

    I bought this the day it came out after picking the original BlazBlue up on a whim for $20 and loving and I have to agree with Mike Grimm here especially since I ironically cannot STAND anime-centric games. With the amount of stuff that this game contains (Tutorial mode, Challenge mode, Arcade mode, Online mode, Legion mode, Story mode where every single character gets an in-depth story with multiple plot paths) for the price that it's going for ($43.95 with tax included), it's honestly THE very definition of "a steal".
  • StriderHoang - August 3, 2010 6:50 p.m.

    Here are my arguments for the minor details: #1 - the complicated inputs actually help prevent overlapping inputs. SSFIV sometimes confuses your input for double-quarter circle forward for a dragon punch motion if you're not careful and you might even waste EX meter in addition to screwing it up. The half-circles mean that if you screw up, at least you won't do something else entirely unintended. #2 - The sounds might be annoying, but the "Counter!" exclamations are critical to realizing you can executing much more damaging combos that come off of a counter hit. Counterhit combos exist in Street Fighter, but you have to be EXTREMELY observant to notice the small text that states a counter hit. In Blazblue, having that audible notice helps reward players for scoring counter hits. Really, I just wanted to bring up those two points for discussing. Really liked the review at any rate anyways.
  • GamesRadarMichaelGrimm - July 28, 2010 7:09 a.m.

    Cheers guys, always appreciate the feedback (even the negative!)
  • mEgAzD - July 28, 2010 6:28 a.m.

    Nice review. It's well informed unlike the last BB review. But then again, it is you Micheal.
  • 5DollarFootlong - July 28, 2010 4:22 a.m.

    i wanted to play the first blazblue so badly, but i never got a chance to. im glad to hear that this one is better and at a cheaper price. i'll definitely be picking this up soon. thank you mr. grimm for your insight.
  • Robusken - July 28, 2010 3:40 a.m.

    Loving it at the moment...but that announcer is making my ears bleed.
  • Valntyne - July 28, 2010 1:51 a.m.

    Loved the 1st BB, glad the 2nd one is worth it.
  • Amatarasu - July 28, 2010 12:50 a.m.

    wait?! dis this out? is tager still as awsome as last time?
  • Samael - July 28, 2010 12:23 a.m.

    Definitely gonna rent this at least. Calamity Trigger was the first fighting game I really enjoyed. I've always been pretty shitty at fighting games, but for some reason I loved CT. ......CARNAGE SCISSORS!
  • JayBeat - July 28, 2010 12:04 a.m.

    I love fighting games but theres something about this that puts me off completely.
  • Conman93 - July 27, 2010 11:04 p.m.

    Hm, the steep learning curve might put me off, like it did with SSFIV... Will still pick this up though.
  • Cyberninja - July 27, 2010 10 p.m.

    glad radar is here to back me up on my future purcase i should have the game by the 24 hour marthon so i will be playing on ps3 we should create a room for the fans of the game.
  • Darkhawk - July 27, 2010 8:47 p.m.

    Arakune = Blatant ripoff of Shuma-Gorath. See for yourselves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScCJsBRqFdQ
  • Ded - July 27, 2010 8:29 p.m.

    Looking forward to this :D good thing is, it's "only" 3 more months to wait until it's out in Europe.. unlike the 10 months or so that was Calamity Trigger.
  • KiwiCommander - July 27, 2010 6:36 p.m.

    Still debating if I want to get this one. I was disappointed with he first BlazBlue. Looked good but it felt like a buttonmasher not to mention Newbie mode was kinda cheesy.
  • vigeoman - July 27, 2010 6:26 p.m.

    is it better than sstf iv? cause theres nothing really exciting in sstf iv i think
  • Mexicutioner - July 27, 2010 6:06 p.m.

    Good to see that BB CS is fairing really well. The fist BB just blew me away.
  • GamesRadarMichaelGrimm - July 27, 2010 6:02 p.m.

    @ ventanger It retails new for $39.99 and I'd say it's got more new content than SSFIV did. It may have fewer new characters, but each one is unique enough to really stand out. Not saying its a must buy for people who own Calamity Trigger, but there definitely seems to be enough here to warrant a sequel.
  • ventanger - July 27, 2010 5:46 p.m.

    I kinda liked Calamity Trigger for it's off the wall cheesiness... but this game doesn't seem to have enough different in it to warrant a sequel...
  • Corsair89 - July 27, 2010 5:45 p.m.

    I loved the first Blazblue and I'm very excited for Continuum Shift. Picking it up as soon as I can!

Showing 1-20 of 20 comments

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