Have you ever been in the middle of a History Channel marathon and thought to yourself, “Man, this would be cooler if there were bits of Golden Ax sprinkled about…”. No? YOU HAVENT? Well, if you happened to think that, you are in luck. Wulverblade is here, and it puts the “Beat-em-up” in “Beat-em-up”. That’s right, there is no selling it short, it puts the whole damn phrase into itself. Wulverblade is a historically inspired, side scrolling beat-em-up from Fully Illustrated. This awesome arcade inspired adventure packs in bloody action, historically accurate characters and locations, and a whole bunch of cooperative fun. Fans of the genre will find this to be one of the most satisfying games to join it in years.
Arcade inspired titles seem to be a growing market on the Switch, and Wulverblade cements that the genre has found a new home. As a Switch console launch exclusive ( coming to PS4/Xbox/Steam very soon), I had to give it a try. It had a lot of positive buzz at conventions, a killer look to it, and co-op which all made me more eager to get hands on. After playing through the entirety of its eight level campaign and dabbling in its other modes, I am sold on the fact that Wulverblade is one of the best arcade styled beat-em-ups I have ever played. It follows Caradoc, a tribe leader in the north of Britannia, and it’s his duty to fight off the invading Roman Empire. Though the invading 9th Legion is 5000 strong, he has no fear. Along his side are Brennus and Guinevere, who are just as relentless and determined to see the Romans scared off. The story is cinematic, brutal, and highly engaging, playing out like a tribal version of 300, minus 297 soldiers. All three of the characters are playable across each game mode. Each are balanced a bit differently, with Caradoc being the classic balanced character, Guinevere being quick and agile, and Brennus being the ever large power house. They are all fun to play with in their own ways, and their strengths really show in cooperative modes. As you follow the story, the attention to detail in both these characters and others, as well as the world they live in, is highly recognizable and totally commendable.
Right off the bat, something surprised me. The entire game had voice over work. I know this may not be special to all, but how often do beat-em-ups convey this quality? And when they do, how often is it displayed across every character, disposable npc’s and all, instead of just focal main protagonists and antagonists? This helped settle me, making me realize sooner that I was in for one quality show. Hand in hand with this is the impeccable art style. You basically are treated to a living, breathing fairy tale book. The hand drawn style speaks words for the vision of the project, as you get to live this historical tale in a very unique and lively way. Flames and blood pop off the screen, faces show clear emotion, and the world around you is typically susceptible to damage and interaction. The cut scenes are very reminiscent of the Avatar: The Last Airbender, which makes sense again because the hand drawn style works wonders for telling these inspired stories. Beyond these basic displays of detail are also the time and attention put toward the genre. In a clear display of passion, the game follows almost every major quality of classic beat-em-ups like Golden Ax and Streets of Rage. For one, the aforementioned co-op is the way to play. Having a friend along for the ride makes things not only more fun but more competitive. While I tried single player, it is a lot harder to a fault, and I much more enjoyed playing with my fiancé (who won 7 of the 8 levels score wise.) What also speaks to the genre is how interactable the world is. Breaking boxes and barrels can typically reveal food or temporary weapons to use, hitting enemies into spikes or fire can boost the damage, and you can even decapitate your enemies and throw their limbs at their buddies! Gross, but effective. From start to finish, there is just loads and loads of detail, it is really worth playing and experiencing for yourself instead me just rattling off every last thing.
The gameplay is the glue that keeps all that detail worth experiencing. It is just as much an ode to the genre as everything else is, with a few nods of its own. You get a health bar and three lives per level in the story mode, or you can go at it with three lives and three restarts in the arcade mode if you want the truly old school experience. Personally I stick to the story mode, but to each his own. The game has everything you could want from a beat-em-up: Lots of weapons, varied locations, portioned level length, specials, and awesome boss fights. Each character has a base weapon, but can pick up plenty of other throwables and heavy weapons along the way (all of which are temporary.) The boss fights are great throughout the games entirety, but the last two levels are something special. The final one in particular is reeeally hard, and I do not think I could have beat it solo, but to overcome that was a great feeling. When you are in a tough spot like these or some of the more trying fights, you can always use one of your special abilities. One of these allows you to call a pack of wolves, which will typically clear out about three standard enemies for you. This can only be used once per level though, so use it wisely. The other is your Rage mode, where you go all Wolverine on your enemies, which allows you to attack relentlessly for a short period while gaining some health and being invulnerable. This gauge fills over time with more kills, but if you happen to lose a life, it drops back to zero. The levels are well balanced as far as length goes, so using your resources is not too hard in co-op, but solo is a different story. There is only one checkpoint per level (usually in the middle) and this can be troublesome when you are going at it on your own. Though they are working on balancing the difficulty, the current build does not have additional options or checkpoints.
As far as the level design, a lot went into the research here, and instead of just showing that through the gameplay, you get actual looks at the research that was done. Michael Heald, the games creative director, did an extensive amount of research to see that the vision of Wulverblade came to fruition. I love the idea that this game puts that on display for its viewers. From videos and pictures, to descriptions that bear further insight, there is loads of real life feedback here that help show how the game came about and where its inspirations were drawn. It’s a damn fantastic way to prove their passion.
My only main concern with Wulverblade in its current state is the difficulty balance. Though some like a challenge, not everyone does. While they are working on it as I mentioned, it made singleplayer during my review period a not so inviting path. Otherwise though, Wulverblade is an amazing game from start to finish, and one of the best in the genre that I have had the pleasure of playing. Its got passion, boldness, and a clear sense of directions that was met. Its story is just as passionate, and has quite the revealing and killer ending that made it that more badass. If you want as complete of a beat-em-up as they come, march towards Wulverblade without hesitation. C’mon, don’t be a coward. Do it.
*Note: This game was provided for the purposes of the review
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10
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