How did this sneak up on us? We dig the Bleach anime series and manga, and we knew that Bleach: Dark Souls was developed by the incomparable Japanese coding house Treasure, just like last year’s impressive DS fighter, Bleach: The Blade of Fate. Yet, we were still caught off guard when we popped this cartridge into our DS and were solidly impressed, if not blown away. If you like fighting games, the Bleach anime, or just rock-solid DS games that look as good as anything on the hardware, you’re going to need this.
On the surface, Bleach: Dark Souls is a fighting game much like any other released over the past 15 years. It’s got Street Fighter-like attack moves. You can jump from the foreground plane to the background plane and back again at will, just as in some of the Naruto games and (grandpa story alert) the original Fatal Fury, released in 1991. It’s got support for up to four players, just like brawlers such as Power Stone 2. And it’s got surprising depth in the form of special attacks, double jumps, guard cancels and all those other fancy moves fighting game devotees froth over while normal mortals spam the basic punch button.
But Bleach: Dark Souls does more than just dress in manga clothes and copy every good fighting game in history. There’s a card system that enables you to tap the DS’ lower screen not only to trigger special attacks, but also to change your fighter’s condition on the fly. Wanna heal? No problem. Need a stat boost that makes your attack stronger? If you’ve got the card, it’s done. Want to become invisible? You can do that too.
Best of all, you customize which powers appear on that second screen, so you can find huge variety between different players’ styles even if they’re playing the same character. This is actually very similar to the Jump! Superstars series, but that one’s never going to get out of Japan (it collects characters from several different series, like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and One Piece, which makes licensing it for the US nigh impossible). So among US releases, these Bleach fighters feel quite unique.
It also looks fantastic, despite being about a year and a half old in Japan. The animations are smooth and lush, the special attacks (Bankai) are huge, filled with splashy special effects, and the camera constantly swoops in or zooms out to give you a great view of the anime pummeling.
There’s not much of a single-player mode beyond the typical arcade, survival, and a weird story mode that doesn’t follow any Bleach plotline we’ve ever read. But the online multiplayer performs remarkably well, and makes up for it beautifully.
Nov 3, 2008