BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is concentrated insanity. Underneath the inviting fluid animation and wild rock music beats the heart of a twisted, sick monster. This game is … ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how hard it is, how it takes so much time to learn all the intricacies and subtleties, and even when you do gain an understanding for most of them you’re still miles and miles away from “being any good.” Each character has an extra quirk, an extra gauge added to the screen to wrap your head around, and you better know each character’s ins and outs because you’re never sure who you’ll be up against. It’s no wonder the fighting game community is so insular. The bar for admission is about yay high, across a lava-filled chasm and Guile is on the other side readying a Flash Kick to your face. Or, in BlazBlue‘s case, a little girl with the soul of a boy and a grown woman inside her riding a merry-go-round horse around.
While BlazBlue teaches you about this specific game, what you learn here can be applied to virtually any fighting game — Cancels, spacing, mix-ups, overhead attacks are all broken down in surprising detail by the snarky little waif…It’s like Fighting Game University (FGU).
While BlazBlue teaches you about this specific game, what you learn here can be applied to virtually any fighting game — Cancels, spacing, mix-ups, overhead attacks are all broken down in surprising detail by the snarky little waif. You get the explanation from her and then you get the chance to do the move yourself. It’s like Fighting Game University (FGU). It’s really effective and had me playing so much, so hard, that I ended up cramping my left hand a bit trying to pull off complicated combos. Dash canceling, man.
Once I gave my hand some rest, I dove into the other modes. There is a lot of content here. Arcade Mode is exactly what you’d expect: a run-through of a basic story with some fights against a bunch of characters that culminates in a final boss. On normal difficulty it’s easy as all hell. Then the difficulty ramps up like crazy once the final boss shows up and it’s like fighting Seth all over again. It’s possible to switch difficulty modes in the main menu, but you have to quit all the way back out to lower or raise it. It would’ve been nice if difficulty could be switched while still in Arcade Mode.
Score Attack is a another version of Arcade Mode, but you fight enemies to rack up points to show off on Leaderboards. It’s there for those who want to compete without fighting other players. UnlimitedMars is another weird take on Arcade where you fight powered up versions of the characters. It’s super-hard. Training is as you’d expect, a place where you can set up a training dummy to train against. There are many, many, many options to tinker with that ought to satisfy staunch fighters. Challenge Mode is an extension of the Tutorial in that it teaches each character’s movies and basic combos. I spent a lot of time here learning a few characters’ specific moves. The timing is tough to get, but the game helps you out with it by displaying the rundown of moves — Hit > Jump > Quarter-circle > C button, etc. — with icons that glow the precise moment you need to press a particular button. It’s an indispensable mode to learn how to master a character. And there are a few others, like Abyss and Story Mode that are basically souped-up versions of the Arcade Mode with a lot more voice acting and narrative that I found myself skipping through most of the time.
Except the voice acting is pretty good, and the writing has a tongue-in-cheek feel that suggests the game is very aware of the various anime tropes it abuses. BlazBlue is a ridiculous game, yes, but it has the decency to know that it’s silly as hell. I really like BlazBlue‘s over-the-top style. It brims with personality. Calling rounds — or levels – REBEL is some stroke of genius, not to mention the various other mispronunctiatons everywhere. It helps set the game apart as the bizarre oddity it is. Arc System Works’ trademark heavy metal guitar riffs make a welcome return, as well as their buttery smooth sprite work. These guys have got to be the masters of 2D game animation by now, their art is just delectable. The character designs are some of the most unique in the genre. Squirrel girls, hulking cyborgs, awful blobs, a dapper wolfman — you’re bound to find someone to grow attached to. And the announcer is amazing. She’ll spout the most Engrish you’ll ever hear in a game. It’s unfortunate the DLC, which is just other versions of the announcer voice, is stupidly expensive. Six bucks apiece for voice samples? Yeah, as much as I want to hear more hilarious, mangled English, no thanks. Those prices do not match the content.
The worst thing about BlazBlue, and this could be a game-breaker, is the Network Mode that lets you play people online. It’s gimped. Experiences may vary of course, but mine has been a litany of errors, freezes, disconnections and lag, lag and more lag. 9 times out of 10 I was dropped from a game, couldn’t connect to a room for various reasons (“Room full” my ass, man, it says there’s no one in there!), or if I did get in a game it was like a slideshow. A slideshow submerged in tar. I only had luck once I made my own room, then made an insulting room title (“Have fun!” didn’t net me any opponents) and even then most of my inputs were delayed. The room options are nice — you can designate rooms with emblems that signify whether you want beginners or advanced players in the room, or voice chat, etc. — but this nonsense needs to get patched post haste. It’s also depressing that I didn’t see many players on to begin with. What was I saying earlier about an insular fighting game community?
With a dodgy Network Mode, I don’t think I can fully recommend BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend. Which is unfortunate, because I kind of hated the game early on, but the more I played the more the game’s concentrated madness grew on me. Robust, deep, rich — pick your synonym. It applies to BlazBlue. It’s the same as its console counterpart, so much so you can switch save data back and forth between the PS Vita and PlayStation 3 versions. It’s fun to play on the PS Vita — the wide, gorgeous OLED and small, clicky D-pad and face buttons lend themselves incredibly well to fighting — and there is a lot of offline content, but if an intrinsic component like Network’s a mess, what are you going to do? Play by yourself?