The gorgeous indie title from last year’s Nintendo Switch line-up, Wulverblade, has now brought its beat ’em up glory to other platforms. The side-scrolling hack ‘n slash prominently wears its inspirations, such as Golden Axe, while infusing its own level of brutality. In fact, upon first starting up the game, I was immediately overwhelmed with the nostalgic vibes of Castle Crashers, another well-known game in a similar vein. Despite the sources it has drawn from, Wulverblade does manage to define itself with these familiar arcade systems, for better or worse.
Wulverblade melds mystical lore elements into a historic event that revolved around Romans crusading for control of Britannia. Standing up to these formidable foes are three playable characters — Caradoc, Brennus, and Guinevere — each of which possesses their own playstyle. Caradoc offers a well-rounded option, balancing speed and power. Brennus is the hulking tank that throws devastating yet slow blows. Lastly, there is Guinevere, who is nimble and ferocious yet fragile. These heroic warriors, while differing in combat style, all carry a special connection the wolves. The fanged beasts can be called in once a level to aid the player by inflicting a chunk of damage on the current enemies. Utilizing this during a mid-mission struggle or holding out until the level’s end boss is something the player will have to decide.
The combat itself is fairly satisfying, although it does sport some conflicting design decisions. If you are familiar with games such as Streets of Rage, the gameplay loop will be very familiar to you. Players progress through level segments, moving left to right. You enter an area, wipe out all forces with extreme prejudice, and move on to the next limited plot of land. Depending on which character is in use, combat should have some slight but noticeable differences. And you will want to take time to learn the special maneuvers and combos of your selected fighter because the game does not go out of its way to teach you the advanced options available to emerge victorious from each wave of Romans. Also, basic movesets can be further augmented by locating the unique weapons that pop up now and again to provide a heavy attack opportunity. Given a notable difficulty spike — an easy mode exists to provide players an alternative to partially alleviate this possible annoyance — not far into the campaign, it is almost necessary to understand how to take full advantage of the suite of battle tactics.
However, learning these moves can only do so much when hindered by certain limitations. The three characters can dash across the screen, but they are limited to strictly horizontal movement when doing so. Diagonal movement is restricted to walking, meaning running puts the player on a set path. This leaves no room for adjustment mid-dash, leaving the player to miss their intended target in some cases. The same constraint applies to jumping. It makes Wulverblade feel a bit more rigid than it should and breaks up the action in some cases as the player is forced to halt their momentum to reorient themselves. This aspect is somewhat less noticeable when playing in 2-player co-op since the combat workload is divided, meaning a single player isn’t attempting to react immediately to multiple threats. However, cooperative play can only be experienced locally. No online multiplayer option exists in Wulverblade and this feels like a major missed opportunity.
All of this takes place in a beautifully illustrated world that is bursting with vibrancy and brutality. The levels are an absolute treat to behold, regardless of any on-screen action. It’s easy to see that the environments were passionately crafted by the team over at Fully Illustrated. Each of the eight levels provided pure eye candy as I progressed through the campaign. The cutscenes between missions also host this high level of artistic design. Complimenting the visuals was strong audio work. Attacks sound satisfyingly destructive, whether the shield is absorbing incoming blows or Caradoc is lobbing a decapitated head at an enemy. In fact, I don’t think I ever tired of the resounding impact triggered by the Leonidas-like kick that followed a well-timed block.
The entire campaign experience wraps up in a handful of hours, with extra time being added for those interested in seeking the history lesson collectables. Once that has come to an end, an Arena mode allows players to endure wave after wave of opponents to test their skill and rise through the ranks on the leaderboard. For those in dire need of more hacking and slashing after the story section ends, the Arena should satisfy any remaining bloodlust still present.
Wulverblade is a solid beat ’em up arcade title that is beautifully wrapped in pleasing aesthetics. It covers a well-trodden path seen in numerous games before, but it manages to deliver an experience that is still its own. The combat is satisfying, especially in terms of sound, but it is held back from being a more rewarding experience due to limiting control factors. Furthermore, the entertaining cooperative play completely forgoes online connectivity, meaning two people will have to play on one machine. Still, hindrances and all, there’s something enjoyable about Wulverblade’s loop that helps carry it through the somewhat short campaign.
7.0 History Lessons Out Of 10
Release Date: January 30th, 2018 (October 12th, 2017 on Switch)
Available Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Publisher: Darkwind Media
Developer: Fully Illustrated
Disclosure: Wulverblade Was Provided By The Publisher For Coverage Purposes