Continuum Shift, the second entry in Arc System Works's BlazBlue series, is a high-speed 2D fighter that bears more than a passing resemblance to the developer's previous fighting game, Guilty Gear. It's an interesting alternative to Capcom's more mainstream Super Street Fighter IV, offering stranger characters and crazier combos at the expense of wider appeal.
- Fast, smooth, aggressive fighting action
- Online play picks up single-player slack
- Beautiful 2D graphics and solid soundtrack
- Single-player is as hollow as ever
- Learning curve may intimidate new players
- Still exists in the shadow of Guilty Gear
Arc System Works seems to think that if you can’t reinvent the wheel, you should at least make a lot of beautiful, highly refined versions of it. At least, that seemed to be the thinking behind Arc’s approximately 529 versions of Guilty Gear X, a wonderful fighter that Arc supplemented with mild upgrades and strange suffixes for the better part of a decade. Now, however, Sega owns Arc’s first love and the supply of suffixes has trickled dry. What’s a heartsick fighting game developer to do?
Arc’s answer has been to create the BlazBlue series, a spiritual successor to Guilty Gear. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is the first upgrade to last year’s BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, and both games are nothing if not faithful tributes to Arc’s previous flagship fighting series. That’s actually not a bad thing. BlazBlue offers a fairly unique take on contemporary versus fighting gameplay and offers alternative to the more mainstream fisticuffs of Street Fighter IV. Whether or not it rocks your knuckle guards depends largely on how much you liked Guilty Gear.
Guilty Gear is Dead, Long Live Guilty Gear
If you enjoyed Guilty Gear, you’ll feel at home in BlazBlue, which values offense above all else. If you’re not attacking you probably should be. The characters walk slowly but can run and air-dash with quickness, opening the door to many different attack vectors. Standard blows chain effortlessly into multiple hit combos, deemphasizing strict input execution in favor of more freeform combo creativity. That’s not to say that BlazBlue is easy, it’s just that its primary challenge doesn’t come from nailing two-frame links ala SFIV.
Many of Guilty Gear’s more advanced maneuvers are present as well, such as instant attack cancels, perfect blocks, combo breakers and even the (largely ornamental) instant kill moves. Though there are differences here and there they are much more subtle than the similarities. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is clearly of the same mold as its granddaddy.
The similarities apply to characters as well, some of whom closely emulate their predecessors. The massive grappler Iron Tager is clearly a robotic take on Guilty Gear’s freakishly powerful Potemkin, while new antihero Ragna the Bloodedge is a note-for-note reincarnation of Guilty Gear antihero Sol Badguy. Other character tributes are less blatant, however, all have cool features and abilities that help differentiate them from their sometimes-obvious inspirations. Tager, for example, has the ability to magnetize opponents, whom he can then pull into his grasp—that’s pretty original! Many characters even have their own UI elements, unique meters and the like, that govern the use of certain moves and abilities.
It Takes Two
Arc nailed all the basic fighting game prerequisites in Calamity Trigger, and has focused on single-player attractions in Continuum Shift. New features include Challenge Mode (similar to SFIV’s Trials), Legion Mode (a quick diversion where you conquer spaces on a map while recruiting the fighters you defeat) and an even more fleshed-out Story Mode, in which you experience each character’s story through cutscenes .
Alas, none of these offerings break the curse of single-player mode in fighting games: BlazBlue’s just not as much fun to play against computer opponents. While Continuum Shift’s fantastical setting and highly convoluted background story have some appeal, I actually found the lengthy Story Mode to be borderline offensive in its continual, banal regurgitation of anime claptrap. Clicking through 45 minutes of juvenile, poorly written and goofy voiced cut-scenes to get to six or seven single-round CPU fights is not my idea of a good time. Considering that there are 15 different character stories, each with branching paths, well, there’s one achievement I won’t be earning.
With that in mind, there are two paths to salvation: one, find a nearby friend who’s as into hardcore fighters, or two, partake in online shenanigans. Luckily the online play seems just as solid as before, so even friendless folk needn’t worry about suffering King of Fighters XII coaster syndrome.
The fact remains that BlazBlue is nothing if not a spiritual remake of Guilty Gear. Again, that’s not a bad thing—it’s just a familiar thing, so know what to expect. I like the Guilty Gear XX games quite a bit, and in my estimation BlazBlue is just about as good. It doesn’t feel as original, but it’s a good fighter in its own right and I’m glad to see that unique Guilty Gear DNA carrying forward. If a rose by any other name smells as sweet, then BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is a pretty fragrant fighter…or something like that.