Blade Kitten Review [PC]
Xbox LIVE Arcade’s reveal gave me some slim hope that we’d return to the happy days of shareware, when huge chunks of game were given away for free and registration bought you an extra 200%. Back then, the undisputed kings were Apogee and Epic Megagames, who used this distribution technique to throw out Commander Keen, Jill of the Jungle, Xargon, Duke Nukem, and a hell of a lot more.
Despite XBLA’s demand that each game features a trial version this resurgence never really happened and it was, in hindsight, a foolish hope, but I bring this up now because Blade Kitten harkens back to that long-gone time. As with so many of those little shareware titles, it’s a sub-par platform romp that suffers primarily from being painfully generic.
Our hideously cheery protagonist – the cocky catgirl bounty hunter Kit Ballard – kicks things off by landing on the planet of Hollow Wish, on the hunt for her next bounty. Thirty seconds later, right after her ship is destroyed and her info on the bounty is stolen, we get control in order to recover our bounty, meet up with a variety of strange characters, and then… I have no idea whatsoever. Whether that’s down to my lack of familiarity with the comics on which the game is paced or poor story scripting I’m not sure, but either way, I’ve got little clue as to what happened or what the character motivations were from about the halfway point on. But hey, it’s a platform game! If the platforming mechanics are solid and the game’s fun, that doesn’t really matter, right? Right.
Blade Kitten’s unique selling point in this department is the freedom of movement. Kit can run, jump, and double-jump with the best of them, but she’s also capable of climbing walls and ceilings. With this in mind, levels are sprawling, and packed with secrets. Rather than following a linear path as in most platformers, or even taking several routes through a level as in certain others (Sonic, say), Blade Kitten has plenty of wide-open areas filled with platforms and destructible walls. Those with an exploratory bent can spend plenty of time flitting around each room, looking for all the hidden rooms and exits.
Your reward for doing this is not mere points, but money. At any time you can tap a button to hop into the game’s shop, which sells costumes, weapons, and upgrades. Costumes are expensive and purely cosmetic (but contain a nice throwback to one of developer Krome’s old characters), weapons do differing levels of damage with different levels of speed, and upgrades either give you more health or stamina. None of these are particularly essential to your progress, but I have to admit they do make the levels’ scattered loot more desireable. Regardless of importance, realising that you’re only 20,000 off a new outfit will make you hunt out a few of the hundreds of hidden areas. Completionist types have their work cut out for them – hunting down all of the collectibles and hidden treasures will easily take a few hours for each of the game’s 13 levels.
As with the shop, combat is perfunctory but serviceable. Kit has melee attacks, ranged attacks, and a shield; most enemies only take one or two hits and Kit’s melee attack uses up no stamina, so progress is largely smooth until boss enemies and foes with shields pop up. Bizarrely, this simple combat works in the game’s favour: once you stop treating a screen of enemies as something that should be carefully picked off, you can hold down the sprint button and hammer out constant attacks as you explore. Sending hordes flying as your charge through them is always cathartic.
Sadly, nothing is really done with these elements. The exploration is nice for those who really like finding all of a game’s secrets, and the combat is simple and pretty, but there’s really very little clever done with either the enemies or the platforming and this leaves the game feeling rather anaemic. You hop from one platform to another, and climb up walls and ceilings to continue on, again and again. A few areas showcase the possibilities – one features moving crates that block off deadly lasers, forcing you to mantle and manoeuvre around them, hanging off the sides and the bottom to avoid the beams – but these sections are few and far between. The dislikeable characters and generic areas do little to help, either.
Despite the admittedly gorgeous graphics and animations, Blade Kitten is a game without charm and without much in the way of innovation, and that’s a real shame considering the joy that can come with clambering freely around levels. Unlike Sonic, Mario, Earthworm Jim, or any other platformer that’s stood the test of time, there’s no sense that you’ll see something new in the next area. You just proceed through similar environments doing similar things, right the way through.
If the actual platforming mechanics felt right and there was joy to be found in repeating these simple actions, then this would be a little more forgiveable, but it’s not to be. The game feels sluggish and clunky with mouse and keyboard controls, and while gamepads fare better, it’s still far from perfect. It’s not terrible, but as with everything else here it’s not nearly as good as it really should be, and this lack of slickness in what should be the game’s most important aspect really sums the whole thing up.
Blade Kitten simply doesn’t try hard enough. While it features a few nice ideas it doesn’t do nearly enough to capitalise on them, and this leaves it a rather joyless experience. It’s not terrible – if you’re feeling nostalgic for a side-scrolling platformer, it’ll scratch that itch for awhile – but it’s disappointing, considering the potential. Had this been released in the heyday of side-scrolling platformers it would’ve been quickly forgotten, and it fails to be an engaging throwback to those happy days. Instead, it’s just a reminder of the extremely average games that used to be shovelled out in force.