Blade Strangers is a Street Fighter-style fighting game with simplified move inputs featuring playable characters drawn from various video game series, including popular independent titles like Cave Story and The Binding of Isaac. It’s a great looking game with a variety of fan-favorite characters, but I found it less than exciting to play after just a short time. This is mostly because it failed to bring anything new to the genre that I hadn’t experienced many times in the past. It’s like when you imagine playing a board game where you roll the dice, move spaces, and win by making it to the last space on the board. That’s as plain as it gets! Sure, it’s a starting point for a board game, but it’s not Monopoly unless you buy real estate.
I think the showcase of the game is its roster of characters from other games. They hail from Code of Princess, the Umihara Kawase series (less-known but adored by fans), and the more recent Shovel Knight, among other titles. Playable fighters include Solange, Liongate, Master T, and Ali from Code of Princess; Emiko, Kawase, and Noko from the Umihara Kawase series; and Shovel Knight himself. A story might not be necessary to bring together such a mix of characters, but the game does offer one. A group of intelligent computers pits the fighters against one another by altering their memories in some sort of simulation, in order to stop their servers from being wiped clean by a cyber menace, Lina, who herself is playable. Expect nothing related to the story through the gameplay itself. It’s just there, through cutscenes, which are longer than what you might expect in a fighting game.
I might usually mention the graphics last, but this game has something special going in with its visuals, despite my criticisms. The official description for the game on the Nintendo website explains, “Proprietary development system transforms 3D models and animation into 2D spritework; every frame looks like a gorgeous anime drawing come to life!”, and it’s very true. The models are 3D, but they have a 2D appearance and move beautifully. You’d have to see how Kawase, one of the characters, gallops forward with her hips, and kicks her legs forward as she moves backwards. There are a lot of attacks in the game where characters spin around in a circle or attack while turned around. It lets you see all sides of the character models, from different angles, and they look great. There are also distortion effects when players land attacks, which look really nice. The graphics stand out in this game, but for me, it just made it more frustrating that the rest of the game was lacking.
There are problems with this game, especially if you’re playing solo. First, the rewards are boring. By playing the game you can unlock multiple colors for each character, and a variety of alternate character profile pictures (the images which are displayed one at a time next to your health bar). These are very minor rewards that just didn’t do anything for me. In Mission Mode, you can play Survival, where you defeat X number of opponents in order to win, but each battle is separated by a lengthy transition, as if there’s some reason to separate each battle. It just seems unnecessary and it’s boring to sit there between opponents, especially for shorter battles. There’s also a Tutorial, where you have to learn how to move your character left and right before anything else. I think it’s not necessary, but it’s there. Overall, these sort of things in the game just seem to happen again and again. In Mission Mode, there’s also Challenge, where you’ll do things like hitting a button three times, then holding forward on the stick while hitting another button, which I don’t think is much of a challenge for anyone who has ever played a basic fighting game.
The inputs in the game are supposed to be simplified, but I found nothing simple about them. True, moves can be performed through a combination of just two inputs, but any sort of instructions in the game describe every move in terms of inputs like “L”, “H”, and “S” (think weak and strong attacks). The problem is that first you have to learn which buttons on the Joy-Con controllers correspond to each of these inputs, then you have to remember them. This isn’t an emulation, so why aren’t there Nintendo Switch buttons also displayed at these times when there are instructions on-screen? It also wasn’t obvious to me that I could perform a one-button special attack until after I had already cleared story mode twice (I happened upon it only by accident when I pressed a shoulder button during training mode).
I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how the game plays because I don’t think it’s much different than a typical fighting game, but there are some features I should mention. There’s an online mode in the game, and it is easy to match with opponents. You can choose to “stand-by” while playing certain modes in order to match when it’s possible. There’s also a sort of special power-up in the game called “Heat up!” which you can use at low health to make you stronger and prevent your opponent from interrupting your attacks. This is about as unique as the gameplay gets, and it’s not enough. There’s also a training mode which allows you to practice with a dummy opponent, a good feature to try out various moves.
So who will enjoy Blade Strangers? I could see it being more enjoyable for players who are completely new to the genre and want to dip their toes in the water. The voices in the game, if not entirely in Japanese, are mostly in Japanese, so players who really like that might also enjoy it. The game has that fan fiction vibe, where you’re bringing together all these characters into one story. Even though the story is goofy, if you like anime and fandom, this might be your jam. This game is anime-flavored. I think it’s all about the characters, but I hate that, because it’s a good-looking, high-quality game, so why can’t it offer anything really unique with its gameplay? It seems like a huge waste. I also think that for players who are really into fighting games, they already have their favorite game, and this won’t pull them away from games like Street Fighter or Smash Bros. I saw a lot of excitement for this game on Twitter in the past few weeks, but I can only recommend to do some research before buying it.
Blade Strangers Review
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Blade Strangers is a less-than-unique fighting game with excellent graphics. Unfortunately great visuals alone don’t make a fun game. If you have an affinity toward the characters and don’t mind a paint-by-the-numbers fighting game, then definitely pick this one up.
Blade Strangers was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Adam “McSNES” Martinez, gaming drop-out and FuncoLand ghost, has spent his entire life training to review games for YOU, the loyal readers of Nintendo Times. Adam is permanently banned from Final Fantasy XI: Online, his favorite game.