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BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Review

23 Dec 2010  by   Paul Younger

It always seemed somewhat unfair that we got the first entry in the BlazBlue series – Calamity Trigger – a mere four months before our American cousins got their hands on the sequel, Continuum Shift. Happily, we now have both, and we can get on with that healthy business of comparing and contrasting.
For the latecomers, BlazBlue is a series that took the one-on-one videogame pugilism world by storm when it launched. Gorgeous sprite-based graphics, Arc System Works’ ability to create characters individual in terms of both play-style and personality, and a superb fighting game engine suitable both for beginners and experts alike, all combined together to create an astonishingly accomplished fighting game.
And lordy, but I love it. I really do. Whether it’s the sheer novelty of having a fighting game stuffed to the brim with memorable, over-the-top characters which actually follow a story – yes, a story, in a fighting game, with story modes that have multiple paths and more exposition than combat – or whether it’s the bubbly sense of humour found throughout, which is often at odds with the somewhat dark plot, or whether it’s just the brilliant fighting engine with a host of characters that have very unique mechanics, I don’t know. But BlazBlue is superb, and if you want some more in-depth thoughts on why, check out my Calamity Trigger review.
Continuum Shift has a few dry, technical changes, which we’ll cover briefly. The Guard Libra system – allowing you to guard crush your enemies and stun them if they blocked too much – acted like a tug-of-war in Calamity Trigger, while here it’s replaced with the Guard Primer system, giving each character a number of regenerating “points” which can be knocked off with particularly hefty strikes. The other overt gameplay change is to Barrier Bursts, which have been renamed Break Bursts and which no longer have the massive drawbacks they did in the previous game, making them far less terrifying to beginners.
Thankfully, there’s a tonne of new and exciting stuff, of which I suppose the most exciting are the new characters. In typical BlazBlue fashion (can we call something typical for a series that’s only had two entires?) they’re all hugely individual, both in terms of personality and play-style. Hazama is a close-combat beast with incredible manoeuvrability thanks to his grappling-hook like Drive, Tsubaki can charge up attacks to enhance her devastating and lengthy combos, Mu-12 is apparently channelling Guilty Gear’s Venom but with lasers rather than billiard balls, and Lambda-11… well, Lambda-11 is a toned down, less broken version of the first game’s Nu-13, which is certainly a welcome addition.
Nu-13 isn’t the only character that’s been toned down: some of the most major changes in this iteration are to the characters and their combos and movelists. So far as I can tell, the big picture has evened things out between the ranged characters and the melee characters: Bang Shishigami has become a whole lot more powerful, while Rachel – generally considered one of the strongest Calamity Trigger characters in the hands of a decent player – has dropped through the floor. As ever, though, that’s generally only relevant to the top-tier players who know the game inside out: the casual players can pick their characters and have fun with them regardless.
These aren’t the only characters we’re stuck with, either. Arc System Works has embraced the notion of downloadable content with open arms, and so far there are two extra characters available for download, with a third in the works. Whether you’re the type to complain that this stuff should’ve been in the game from the off or not, I’m certainly happy with the notion of having more characters available if I want them. If I don’t want to shell out for them I’m not locked out of internet play: free patches are available so that you can go up against the new characters online without the ability to play as them.
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But how will newbies fare? After all, fighting games are some of the hardest to get into, and Calamity Trigger made some interesting strides in that direction. Well, there’s a Tutorial segment (narrated in hilarious fashion by gothic lolita Rachel Alucard) which goes through four tiers, from explaining the very basics of the fighting game genre through to the more complicated specifics of BlazBlue, right up to giving you a primer on individual character strategies. The difficulty here is, well, the difficulty: it’s helpful to know that Lambda-11 is excellent at range and has tools to keep people there, but going from that to being asked to perform a lengthy combination is more than a little daunting.
For absolute beginners, there’s an aptly-named Beginner Mode which removes a lot of the finger gymnastics required. In this mode, the face buttons no longer represent Light Attack, Medium Attack, Heavy Attack, and Drive, but become Light Combo, Heavy Combo, Special Move, and Throw. Hammering the Light Combo button repeatedly lets newbies pull off the sort of combo attacks that would normally require finesse, timing, and a solid memory, and it’s a welcome addition which lets button mashers have a good time with the game.
Sadly, this comes at the expense of the first game’s innovative system that let you bind special moves to different directions on the right analogue stick. The upshot is that, while complete beginners have somewhere to start that can give an idea of what combos and play-styles for each character should look like, those hoping to play with the standard controls have lost a useful tool. I’m not convinced it’s a change for the better.
Thankfully, I’m of the opinion that everything else is. The new guard and burst systems fix some of the problems that Calamity Trigger had, while the sweeping changes to the roster have left the game feeling better balanced. The netcode appears solid – over the past week, I’ve only suffered one disconnection due to lag, and any lag present in the other matches was pretty much indiscernible; my losses felt like they were due to my poor play rather than anything else. And, happily, the superb story continues apace, with a whole lot of genuinely funny dialogue present in the gag endings and the “Teach Me, Miss Litchi!” and “Help Me, Professor Kokonoe!” sketch comedy sections – although I suspect newcomers to the series will find the story confusing as all hell.
But I’m finding it hard to fault Continuum Shift, on the whole. Oh, the Legion Mode (a turn-based strategy attempt, with battles resolved in the fighting game engine) is throwaway, but it’s a bit of extra fun. I do feel there’s a gap present in terms of getting beginner players up to a decent standard, but the new Beginner Mode at least makes the game a lot more accessible, and those who play “properly” have an even more finely-tuned version of one of the best fighting games out there.
Is it worth it if you have Calamity Trigger? That depends on where you’re coming from. If just dip into fighting games every now and then, probably not. However, if you were fascinated by the story, the characters, and the humour; if you played online religiously and want the new tweaks and new characters; or if you’re an absolute beginner wanting a fighting game that’ll allow button mashing, then this is one of the best on the market. For me, Calamity Trigger was a superbly-crafted fighting game with ten times the heart of any Street Fighter you care to mention, and Continuum Shift continues what I’m hoping will become a grand tradition. I’m not going to pretend to be qualified to comment on whether BlazBlue or Street Fighter functions better at the absolute top-level of play, but I know which is going to be spending more time in my disk tray.

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