Wednesday 14 June 2006
Arms go up, arms come down. Arms go up, arms come down. Few things in this life give you the same warm feeling inside as watching the standard 2D cheering crowd and their two frames of animated celebration. For once you spot these stilted dolts in motion you know what will follow; side scrolling, re-scaling, flat but bright sprites battling it out with juggles, acrobatic impossibility and huge combos.
Yes, from the moment the first frantic, hugely enjoyable but slightly chaotic battle of Bleach begins, you know that while the school is old, this class is definitely new.
Above: The zooming, leaping sprites are fluidly animated
Because while Treasure have embraced all the time-honoured elements of the often fiercely protected 2D fighting genre, there is more going on underneath the garish garnish of twin-level duels and explosive effects - for they've also added in a few new neat touches in the shape of Wi-Fi and stylus-activated special moves.
With each battle being played out on the top screen alone, the bottom one is home to a card-based system that allows you to deal from a deck of power-ups, as well as triggering your most powerful attacks - without resorting to memorising huge streams of button presses.
Instead, you slide a sweat-lubricated finger from the standard array of attacks (light, medium and heavy) on the face buttons and dish out a number of quickly deployed (and recharged attacks) or opt for a heavyweight but slowly-charging energy-bar drainer.
And whatever the complexities (and the constant need for a screen-cleaning cloth) of this method, it instantly levels the playing field and lends a depth and subtlety to the fighting.
Now the elaborate and all powerful moves have to be earned, rather than learned, which serves to encourage amateur gamers as well as rewarding pros, who can still craft chains and combos.
Above: You can play almost entirely via the cards, except for the need to block and move
Of course, some of these refinements are lost in the Wi-Fi and wireless play simply because of the demands of including four fighters on screen. So, while the solo mode is solid, the lag online can be fairly hefty, particularly when everyone decides to deploy their processor-hogging powers. While it doesn't really spoil the combat, anarchy reigns over accuracy as mayhem takes hold.
However slowly things can go online, alone things remain crisp, quick and brightly defined. The controls are sharp, the sprites beautifully drawn and the characters balanced enough to force constant changes in tactics and moves.
The only problem that may dog importers is the need to read some Japanese either to know which cards are on offer or to avoid getting trapped in the Story Mode with its varying demands.
Bleach won't convince anyone who dislikes traditional beat-'em-ups that this is anything other than a standard 'middle of the street' fighter, but just look at these reasons to import it: the first non-terrible version of the anime, the first orthodox DS fighter and four player Wi-Fi. Arms go up!