In one way, Blazblue games are like buses. You spend years waiting for one, then two come along within eight months of each other. Continuum Shift is the sort-of sequel to April’s Calamity Trigger, featuring an expanded character roster, new stages, new modes and a plethora of tweaks, updates and fixes. This is the definitive version of one of the year’s best fighting game, a glorious mix of utterly hardcore combo timing, camp extravagance and gorgeous 2D graphics. In one way, Blazblue games are like buses, but in every other way they’re like finely tuned racing cars. Finely tuned racing cars painted in garish colours, fitted out with rocket launchers and flame throwers and driven by amphetamine fuelled bears.
That’s not to say that Continuum Shift lacks subtlety. Far from it in fact. The game is an intricately levelled feat of balancing, at once accessible and unfathomably deep. At one end of the spectrum, Blazblue allows the uninitiated to unleash awesome looking attacks with a few simple button presses, whilst at the other, it’s a crazed maelstrom of timing, attacks and counters, chains, blocks and barrier bursts. There are strengths and weaknesses to exploit, as well as tactics to learn if you want to master Blazblue.
The game has a nice simple control system, utilizing four attack buttons; A is a light attack, B is a medium attack, C a heavy attack and D a drive attack. B and C together pulls off a throw and A, B and C together pulls off a rapid cancel, essential if you want to keep your combos going that little bit longer. The four attack buttons, coupled with Street Fighter style special and super moves make Blazblue an instantly familiar game, allowing anyone who’s played a fighting game before to instantly pick up and play it.
The new modes include Legion, which sees you fighting and recruiting characters in order to finish all the tasks on a board. Alongside this there’s a Tutorial mode which introduces you to the basics as well as the more complex concepts that lie at the heart of the game. Coupled with the new Challenge mode, which teaches you the moves and combos of every character in the game, the Tutorial creates one of the most comprehensive training modes found in any fighting game to date. That the Tutorial mode is conducted with good humour and a wry sense of irony is a boon, and makes Blazblue: Continuum Shift that little bit more loveable.
The online mode is as slick as ever, putting even Street Fighter 4’s to shame with its speed and responsiveness. There are ranked matches and player matches to enjoy, as well as a leaderboard to stare at longingly, safe in the knowledge that you’ll probably never trouble the top ten. Online matches can be daunting for beginners, mainly because you will lose. A lot. It takes a while to find the rhythm of the battles, especially when you’re playing with fighters who know the game better than you do. Perseverance is the key though, as with any game. You won’t be lighting up the leaderboard when you first step into the ring, but you will be learning, and that can only make you a better player.
The new characters fit perfectly into the game, each of them bringing a slightly new fighting style to proceedings. Hazama has a long reach and plenty of anti-air moves, whereas Tsubaki is a quicker, more accessible fighter. Both of them appeared in Calamity Trigger, albeit as NPCs in the story, so it’s good to see them fleshed out here into fully fledged fighting machines.
Coming so soon after the original was released in the UK is a bit of a problem for Continuum Shift. A lot of what it does is the same as what Calamity Trigger did. Sure there are tweaks here and there, but the backgrounds and the soundtrack are basically the same, meaning what you’re paying for are the new modes, a couple of new characters and some more impressive box art. It’s not a huge problem, and some may say that the upgrades are worth it, but the proximity of the two releases could well split the audience, and as such the number of online combatants, and that would be a shame.
It’s fitting that Blazblue has the last word in a year that has seen 2D fighters retake their rightful place at the top of the face punching tree. It’s a game that typifies everything that the genre does so well, whilst also exposing its biggest flaw. Incremental updates that add only a few more characters or a slightly tweaked fighting style became a running joke the last time 2D fighters ruled the roost, and it would be a shame to see the genre fall into the same pit again. Blazblue is great, and Blazblue: Continuum Shift is the very best version of the game you can buy for your home console. Here’s hoping the next release is a full sequel with something more to offer in terms of content.
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