The BlazBlue series has been kicking around for a few years now, with the second game, Continuum Shift, being iterated for a variety of different platforms with differing levels of content and character balancing. The handheld console versions have been just shy of the mark, held back primarily by hardware limitations. Now it’s time to try the very latest iteration, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend, on the PS Vita. Can the new handheld do this fighting series justice?
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is the definitive version of the original titles, offering all the characters, balance tweaks, modes and features of all that came before with some new content to boot.
This 2D fighter from the minds that brought you Guilty Gear is full of outlandish characters, crazy moves, visual flare and a complex and expansive anime narrative. The presentation, in particular, really stands out. The 2D characters and background look utterly beautiful on the Vita screen, with a highly stylised and vibrant anime aesthetic further complimented by a heavy metal score that fits the adrenaline fueled action marvelously. It’s a familiar Japanese fighter, to the point of being clichéd, but there’s no denying how fun the experience can be.
A large part of why BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is so enjoyable is how meticulously developers, Arc System Works have crafted every aspect. Extend is the outcome of years of work. Characters are balanced to an exceptional degree and when paired with the nuanced fighting mechanics, every bout feels fair, exciting, varied and purposeful. Whether you’re battling through the story modes or taking on human opponents you’ll be completely engaged in each fight as you make split-second decisions and strategic actions in order to win. The slightest mistake gives your opponent a window to turn the tide. It all makes for magnificent, adrenaline fuel combat.
Through the use of barriers to defend against standard attacks, frequent countering, reversing or breaking of attacks, as well as a variety of combos, you and your opponents duke it out in beautiful 2D locations. The Drive attacks act as character-specific special moves on top of their already existing individual move-sets and can be deployed on their own or be incorporated into combos and counters to really deal out the damage or protect you from incoming Drive attacks. Meanwhile Astral Heats offer brutal finishing moves under very specific conditions and its related Heat gauge allows for instant cancels to further aid in your stringing together of combos. Indeed you have a diverse and hugely powerful set of tools available to you, adding a nice dimension of strategy and panache to battles.
Additionally generous time windows for combos make this complex fighter significantly more accessible then many others of its ilk. And if you opt for Style mode in the control options you can even string together combos entirely by pressing a single button. The result is a fighter with all the complexity and depth a genre veteran would expect but one that anyone can pick up and play and see visually impressive as well as effective and engaging results. It’s masterfully designed.
If you’re looking to move away from Style mode and fancy your chances against human opponents then the comprehensive and fully voiced tutorial takes you through every aspect of the experience. Although you’d better be prepared to commit yourself completely to the game if you intend to go through it all. It’s worth it if you want to get the most out of combat but at the same time it’s the worst way to initially experience BlazBlue, overwhelming you before you’ve even thrown a single punch in anger.
Once you’re savvy with how combat works you have a wealth of options in how you want to play. The fighter standards of Arcade, Versus, Score Attack, and Training let you dive straight into the action with familiar setups whilst the absolutely massive story mode takes you through the grand narrative in-between fights. The more unique modes are Abyss – an RPG-inspired mode where you take on waves of enemies while periodically leveling up your character’s attributes – and the brand new Unlimited Mars mode, – where you’re up against extremely difficult AI opponents consecutively, with your total score uploading to the online leaderboards.
Competitive multiplayer rounds out the modes, available over local WiFi adhoc as well as online. Online play showed no slow-down or lag and the matchmaking did a great job of matching me up with similarly levelled players. Replays can now be saved and downloaded and whilst waiting for ranked custom matches you can play arcade or training mode, being pulled out of it when a challenger appears. It’s robust system that allows the highly competitive to truly test themselves.
Indeed BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is a wonderful fighter that transitions to the PS Vita with no compromise. Finally this series can be enjoyed on a handheld powerful enough to recreate the home-console experience on the go. Of course many will still prefer to use an arcade stick and there’s no leaps being made with the series, but the only real complaint is how it doesn’t make use of the Vita’s features such as the touch screens. However, it’s nothing more than a nitpick and takes nothing away from how superb Extend is.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Platform: PS Vita/ PS3/ Xbox 360 Release Date: 22/02/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PS Vita. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.