At the turn of the century, Arc System Works shook up the 2D fighting genre with the acclaimed Guilty Gear series. They wowed arcade gamers with their high resolution visuals and smoothly animated sprites; the hearts of many were won over by the imaginative designs and progressively heavy-metal soundtrack; a hardcore following was earned by the combo-friendly mechanics and balanced roster of unique characters. Now, a decade later, they threatened to weave that same magic once again with Guilty Gear's spiritual sequel, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. Positive reviews and good sales lead to the franchise continuing a year later with Continuum Shift.
Within a month of its console release in Japan the game quickly made it over to the US and now, almost 6 months later, Zen United finally has brought it here to European shores. After all this time, has this game been worth the wait? Is Continuum Shift merely an incremental update or a sequel worthy of investment?
Right from the start, the lovely intro movie (including an opening song by KOTOKO) lets you know what you’re in for - the game is seeped in a beautiful anime style, complete with vivid colours, fantasy sci-fi, gothic highlights and a smattering of references. On pressing start you’re greeted with a great big main menu, showcasing over half a dozen modes for you to play with.
Arcade mode is just like that of playing BlazBlue single player in the arcades. Pick one character and fight sequentially through 10 bouts against computer-controlled opponents with some character-specific match-ups and story events followed by the traditionally difficult boss at the end. The story elements are certainly a nice touch and are thankfully covered in greater detail in story mode.
To ease the player in to the game mechanics (and by extension, in to 2D fighting games) there is an extensive tutorial mode that can teach you all of the basics. On top of beginner and intermediate tutorial session you can also find tips for more advanced techniques, tactics and specific strategies useful to each character. Having some choice narration from the game characters themselves is an extra special touch – namely the condescending tone from “Mistress” Rachel and her options on beginner mode controls. There is also a challenge mode to help teach you each character’s basic moves before moving on to increasingly harder combos.
An extensive story mode has been the staple of the previous ArkSys console release and Continuum Shift certainly does not disappoint in terms of quantity. The ‘visual novel’ presentation style makes a return from the previous instalment and offers long stretches of dialogue in between decision making and fights. The story itself actually continues immediately after the events of Calamity Trigger with every character’s story path having up to 3 possible endings and the possibility of unlocking another character. On top of that, there are also unlockable ‘Help me’ segments with Miss Litchi and counselling sessions for characters that reach the ‘Bad End’ from a 4th wall breaking cat-woman professor, not to mention the gag reels also included.
Legion is a novel twist carried over from the PSP game which contains tactical RPG and survival elements, as you conquer areas and enlist characters from defeated armies. The gallery is a large collection of unlockable movies and illustrations from a variety of popular artists and manga authors.
Online play is an absolute blast when played with friends thanks to the netcode and seemingly absent lag from what I’ve seen. Playing strangers online has been greatly improved too with an all new ranking system and the ability to either go through arcade mode or training whilst you await new opponents. My only complaint here is that the rest of the world has access to the DLC character Makoto and (at the time of writing) she does not seem to be available on the UK PlayStation store... not to mention the considerable release delay has meant they North American gamers have also had a full six months to get better at playing Continuum Shift than players here in Europe. Still, it beats being kicked out of game rooms for not having purchsed the latest map pack.
Of course none of this would be of great worth if the main arcade mode from which all the others stem wasn’t up to scratch, and thankfully this is where BlazBlue truly excels. The backgrounds are a lively mix of 2D and 3D graphics full of lighting effects and shadows cast by the fighters. The music is an exciting mix of heavy metal with a wide variety of other elements. The character roster is full of interesting individuals, each of which have a highly unique look, feel and play very differently to each other. It’s this cast of incredible oddballs that sets this apart from other series and makes this a pleasure to play.