Wulverblade (Switch eShop) Review
Side-scrolling beat-em-ups are one of my least favourite genres. Often, I find they feel repetitious, imprecise, and a chore to play through. Subverting my expectations is the gorgeous-looking Wulverblade, an indie title that plays almost as well as it looks.
Conjuring up serious Braveheart vibes, Wulverblade is set in 120 AD Britannia, where the face paint-clad, thick Scottish accent-bearing locals seek to repel the dastardly Roman invasion. There’s nae an element of this game that doesn’t make you want to burst out a guttural roar and decapitate ancient Roman invaders – a common combat manoeuvre you’ll encounter.
The bloody combat is responsive and immensely satisfying. It certainly helps that the control scheme is simple; one button for heavy attacks, another for light, and a small amount of variations based on directional inputs. Thankfully, there are very few combos to memorise, nor are they overly complex. Due to the limited number of moves, this may scream out as repetitive and that I’m contradicting a genre gripe I stated only two paragraphs earlier. However, the variety and challenge are in the variety of enemies. Oh, and you will be challenged. Wulverblade is brutal in more ways than one.
Early enemy encounters are relatively simple and can be easily defeated by way of button mashing. This tactic will not get you far at all in Wulverblade. Mastering the game is a matter of analysing enemy attack patterns and countering accordingly. What works for one enemy will certainly not work for another. Landing a savage uppercut on a large, slow enemy might be effective, but attempting to rush and land the same move on a nimble opponent will result in a swift, bloodied death. Adding to the variety are the end-of-level boss encounters who make you earn every glorious victory. Some of these encounters border on feeling like bullet-sponges (or axe-absorbers – whatever the 120 AD period equivalent is) due to their high amount of health, but the balance feels fair for the most part.
Playing as one of three characters allows for different fighting styles to be adopted. Featuring Brennus, the slow-moving tank character; Caradoc, the balanced fighter with a mix of strength and mobility; and Guinevere, the fleet-footed stabbing machine – there’s likely to be a style to fit most players. However, the correct answer to any question ever asked in the history of mankind is Guinevere. Her speedy dodges and rush attacks dug me out of many perilous situations. That, and just look at her. On second thought, don’t. Glance at Guinevere the wrong way and she will mess you up.
Messing up Romans has never looked or sounded better – Wulverblade is one of the best looking games on the Switch. Featuring a stunningly vivid art style, the game is complemented by a hard-hitting sound design of ancient weaponry in action. The soundtrack is top-class, and the intensely primal voice acting would make Mel Gibson of 1995 (before he went weird) quiver in his boots.
Spilling Roman blood is even better with a friend, as the entire game is playable in two-player co-op. Co-op is fantastic, although I do have two minor complaints. Firstly, it can be difficult to see where both of your characters are in late-game levels swarmed with enemies – combat can quickly descend into a chaotic flurry of swords and lost limbs with reckless abandon. Visibility would be enhanced if each player character model was punctuated with a small “P1” and “P2” symbol, but I imagine this would be an interface nightmare trying to avoid cluttering what can often be a screen of hectic action. Secondly, the difficulty that makes Wulverblade so compelling in the first place is diminished with a second player. It feels like the difficulty does not scale accordingly for two players. Challenge is still there to be found, but my brother and I figured out it would be easy to defeat most bosses by cheesing uppercuts and juggling them in the air without allowing them to touch the ground. Dealing incredible amounts of damage, this tactic, among others made Wulverblade feel a bit light-on. However, co-op is a novel way of making the game more accessible to a wider audience who may not enjoy the harsh difficulty of single player. In addition to this, the real challenge of the game is found in the arcade-style mode, where the player is tasked with beating the entire game armed with only three continues. Good luck.
Wulverblade is not without its imperfections, the first of which is encountered very early in the game – long load times. Regardless of whether the Switch is docked or not, load times are long enough to be an annoyance. Playing co-op, I experienced a bizarre bug where after the second player wanted to stop playing, we were unable to drop-out of co-op. Turning off their controller only yielded a prompt disallowing the game from continuing until two controllers were connected. After trying for longer than we would care to admit, we could not figure out how to drop-out without rebooting the game.
My final complaint is that positioning when fighting can be difficult to nail down. Players can move up and down in addition to left-to-right, but more than once I unleashed a combo on an enemy, only to miss entirely and get burned on the counterattack. This was because I was not occupying the exact same vertical plane as the enemy character model. Frustratingly, I continued to experience this deep into the game, but it was never severe enough to be unfair. This imprecision masquerading as hyper-precision is what normally turns me off the genre, but Wulverblade is too good in every other facet to let this get in the way.
As a side note, history buffs will get a real kick out of reading through the highly-researched locations and fact sheets found throughout Wulverblade. Although difficult to appreciate in the midst of annihilating an entire Roman garrison, the level of detail and authenticity is well worth a read in between battles.
Beautifully animated, voiced and orchestrated, Wulverblade is an irresistible package for any fans of side-scrolling fighters. A few minor issues merely smudge the face paint of this epic Britannica adventure.
Score 4 / 5
- Beautiful visuals
- Sound design is incredible
- Brutally satisfying combat
- Co-op is fun
- Long load times
- Attack accuracy can be imprecise
- Co-op somewhat diminishes challenge, can be easily exploited