Review: Wulverblade

Review: Wulverblade

Wulverblade is a side-scrolling, arcade inspired beat’em up set in Roman-era Britain where you become one of three characters fighting to save their homeland from Roman invasion. While it’s not the prime example of what the genre is capable of, its quirks help it stand out among the competition.

Title: Wulverblade
Developer: Darkwind Media
Platform: Nintendo Switch. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Controller or Mouse and Keyboard
Available digitally on Nintendo Switch eShop, PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam

“Its 120AD and the Roman army have seized control of the south of Britannia. Their goal, to march north and conquer the rest of the island with brutal and bloody efficiency. The 5000 strong 9th Legion are preparing for war, but little do they know what lies in wait for them. Caradoc, a guardian of the northern tribes has rallied the war bands and is ready to bring the war to the Romans. Caradoc bares a gift that even he is not aware of. And soon, the Ninth Legion will discover its true power.”

Boasting some historical accuracy,  Wulverblade is a sidescrolling beat’em up inspired by arcade classics and allows for both single player and local two player co-op. You can choose between three characters, Caradoc, Brennus, and Guinevere, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Caradoc is the main character, being the most balanced with the highest defense. His brother, Brennus, is the slowest character but also the strongest, and for what their sister Guinevere lacks in strength and defense, she makes up for with speed and agility.

In the beginning, I found Guinevere to be the most useful, as her swift movement allows longer juggling of enemies and quicker aversion. After completing the game however, Caradoc and Brennus had both become easier to play than before, so it just takes some time to adjust.  Of course, this differs for other players and depends on preference, but if you don’t enjoy playing as one character at least you have two alternative options.

Wulverblade  contains three separate campaign modes; Standard Mode, with three lives, unlimited continues, level checkpoints, and the ability to return at any time when in between levels, an Arcade Mode, with three lives and only three continues, and a special mode which unlocks after “unleashing your inner beast”. While you have to stick to one character in Arcade Mode, in Standard Mode you can switch characters between levels when starting from where you left off during your last session. Outside of the campaign, you can challenge seven  arenas, where you battle waves of enemies, utilize and avoid hazards, and improve your skills in order to achieve the highest score.

Wulverblade‘s gameplay is straightforward, with the usual directional movement, regular,  heavy, and jump attacks, and the ability to pick up and throw or consume items. Regular and jump attacks are always available, while heavy attacks require obtaining a nearby heavy weapon, breaking after a set amount of hits, but effective when attacking enemies at a distance.  The ability to defeat an enemy, pick up their weapon or severed body part, and throw it at another is convenient as well, but doesn’t always produce much damage. There’s also some lack of attack variety, and most of the time you run around while mashing one or two buttons depending on which enemies you’re facing. While you can instantaneously switch between attacks when available, some additional attack combos could have added more fluidity to the combat.   Like any efficient beat’em up, you can also pick up food to restore health, as well as money and treasure to increase your score.

Unlike some other games in the genre, characters do not have their own special attacks and instead have the ability to summon wolves once per level. These wolves are capable of defeating a few enemies and taking a chunk out of a boss’s health.  I preferred using them on a boss when I felt particularly frustrated. While these wolves are convenient, summoning them is optional, and bonus points are added to your final score if you choose not to.

All characters also have a Rage ability. Rage builds up on a meter as you fight against enemies and grants temporary speed and strength enhancement once activated, while also restoring some health.  Rage comes in handy when taking on groups of tougher enemies, but can be aggravating when trying to build it up if you fall in battle, since it resets. Other than attacking, you can block and dodge enemy attacks. This can be helpful but dodging doesn’t always register due to the controls, becoming an untimely charge attack.

Combat can become overwhelming when surrounded by enemies, being hit far too often to get a chance to hit back until after getting knocked down. The best strategy seems to be keeping your distance either being able to switch between attacking enemies, or getting all the enemies on one side of you to attack them all at once. While this alternative method can work well, enemies can trap you in a corner, so it’s best to avoid the edges of the screen when possible.

While the bosses are simple enough once you understand their attack patterns, most have the ability to summon other enemies. This can be infuriating when trying to focus on defeating the boss, but at the same time can help you build up rage and become beneficial, although it takes some patience . 

Although the art style works well, it can cause a minor inconvenience. Due to having two dimensional characters on a three dimensional plane,  it can be difficult to determine where enemies can be hit from. While smaller enemies can be hit from being horizontally in front of or behind them, and from above using the jumping attack, bosses can be hit when vertically above them on the plane. This can be irritating when fighting multiple enemies at once, as you may miss a few times, but is a small fault otherwise.

All stages in Wulverblade feature a timer, which doesn’t give you a game over once it runs out, but will give extra points for finishing the stage within the time limit. It’s understandable why a timer is present, but there’s no real consequence if it runs out in either mode, causing the feature to seem unnecessary.

One aspect Wulverblade executes well, is  describing significant historical information through optional photos and videos which unlock as you progress. A mythological element is later mixed in as well, which seems arbitrary, but strangely compliments the ancient British history. This mythological element is also incorporated into the campaign and provides an amusing reward for those who have endured it.

While it does have some minor faults, Wulverblade is a competent beat’em up that would be best recommended for fans of the genre and history buffs. It’s not the most quintessential beat’em up around, but is well made and has a more compelling narrative than other games in the genre. Wulverblade provides an enjoyable experience and its distinct features help make it a worthy addition to the genre.

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