Studio Saizensen has carved a niche out for itself over the past decade for either developing or releasing some of the highest-quality indie games out there. Code of Princess is something that allowed them to really raise their stock, and with its distinct cast of characters, it felt like a natural fit for a fighting game. The company itself has some experience with those thanks to Blade Arcus from Shining, and when combining these two things, you wind up with at least a rough idea of what you’ll get with Blade Strangers. It’s a 2D fighting game with a diverse cast of characters – and probably the biggest-name characters an indie fighter can hope to get.
Fans of Code of Princess on the 3DS, PC, and now Switch will enjoy having Solange, Ali-Baba, Liongate, and Master T available. Each of these characters plays differently, with Solange being a quick character with a bit of range, while Ali-Baba is a little slower, but has good range as well. The two bulkier characters play surprisingly differently, with Master T looking like a Zangief-esque bruiser, but actually having a good amount of range with his massive wingspan, while Liongate attacks with a mix of fast attacks with a slow startup time and a longer-range fireball.
The rest of the 14 character roster is made up of characters from other games – alongside two original creations for this game. Mega Man fans from the Marvel vs. Capcom games will enjoy using Curly from Cave Story, as she’s got a long-range blaster at her disposal, while Quote is more of an all-around character. The cast of Umihara Kawase has some of the more unique offense in the game, with Umihara’s stage in particular being the most bizarre – unless you consider fish with legs to be a normal thing. Umihara herself has the ability to use her fishing rod to get around the stage, or she can just bash you with a knife or her backpack.
Noko is surprisingly well-rounded and uses a tonfa to either bash you or just turn it into a railgun and run through folks quickly. Emiko herself doesn’t do much, but she uses her gigantic cat Shakemaru to deal out damage – resulting in some strange on-screen pairings. Blade Strangers is definitely the only game where you will see Shovel Knight bop a giant cat with his shovel. Using him is an absolute blast as he’s a shorter-range bruiser in a sense, but his shovel gives him some range and one of his supers involves sending the troupple king on top of foes to take them out.
Gunvolt from Azure Striker Gunvolt/Mighty Gunvolt joins the fray – and he plays quite a bit differently than I expected. While he does have a blaster attack, it is incredibly slow and mainly serves as a way to attack enemies in mid-air or get a bit of range for a last-second victory for an enemy who is far away. He’s a strike-heavy character, which caught me off guard given his blaster-reliance and quick speed in his mainline games. He isn’t a super-fast character, but is a solid all-around character for those who want a blend of striking and projectile attacks. Isaac is a character that can be dangerous in the right hands. He has the ability to stab enemies and his tiny stature makes him tougher to hit – especially for larger characters. His summon is also one of the most amusing as he brings his mother in to stomp enemies out.
Helen is the most normal of the original characters and is a buxom blade-wielding Greek warrior. She is perfect for anyone who loves fast-paced sword-slashing – so if you like playing as Sophitia in the Soulcalibur games and always wanted an anime-ish incarnation of her, you’ll greatly enjoy using her. Lina is the normal final boss, but fully playable outside of the story mode and is quite bizarre. She has short and long-range attacks, including some that can be cheap – but she never approaches SNK final boss-levels of annoying. The roster as a whole is fantastic and there is at least one character for every kind of player out there.
The core gameplay is outstanding and something that fighting fans of all skill levels will enjoy. If you just want a quick pick up and play game, you can have that. However, there’s enough depth to the game’s combos and special move chaining that you also have enough depth to play it for hours and not get bored. The game’s one-on-one only nature may be a bit of a downer for some, but there are a healthy amount of modes offered up – including arcade, a goofy story mode with minimal story beyond some interplay between characters, and survival mode. The survival mode is probably the most addictive mode of the bunch since it allows you to fight every character in succession – while the arcade mode chops that number down with the same basic overall format. For learning all of the characters as rivals, survival makes it much easier to learn their methods. It plays quite well with either a Switch Pro controller or even reasonably well with the Joycons on the Switch in portable mode. Given that doesn’t rely on circular motions as much, the smaller left stick on the Joycon works surprisingly well – and this is a more portable-friendly game on the Switch than any of the Street Fighter offerings.
Visually, Blade Strangers looks fantastic either in docked or handheld mode. The handheld version definitely features some odd pixellation on the character models – but that does appear to be better in docked mode. Either way, you have richly-detailed character models alongside impressive backgrounds and there isn’t a hint of slowdown to be had in either setup. Attack animations are also quite smooth and while they aren’t on-par with something like Street Fighter III, they do look great and fairly robust.
Musically, every franchise that is represented in this has some kick-ass remixes of its soundtrack. Shovel Knight’s OST with an electric guitar is pretty sweet, and hearing the more fantasy-themed tracks from Code of Princess get a similar treatment is cool too. The sound design as a whole is good, with Japanese voice acting sounding fairly intense when needed and attacks having a solid oomph to them. Playing with the Switch’s speakers in portable mode doesn’t quite showcase the sound in the best way there, but does still allow the soundtrack to shine.
Overall, Blade Strangers is a must-buy for fighting game fans. Switch owners will love having a fighter on the go that actually works well in that format – as the controls are such that you can comfortably play them in portable mode unlike the Street Fighter games. It’s a great-looking and playing game that has enough depth for die-hard brawlers, but is also easy to learn and fun to play at all skill levels. The robust roster may not be huge in number – but there is more variety in play types here, and it’s easy to find at least a handful of characters you’ll want to play as regularly.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Blade Strangers for the Nintendo Switch provided by Nicalis.