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Bleach DS: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei

Since the launch of the DS, the gaming community has been treated to a wide variety of handheld great titles. Racing fans have their hands full with Mario Kart DS, FPS enthusiasts have gotten their hands on Metroid Prime: Hunters, and puzzle game aficionados have been treated to Tetris, Bust-A-Move, and a handful of other mesmerizing games. Even RPG gamers have gotten games like Children of Mana, Lost Magic, and Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. But in the midst of all these great games, there’s still one aspect that is still sorely lacking: the fighting genre. Aside from Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers, American DS owners don’t have many choices when it comes to fighters. Importers, on the other hand, have a few more games to consider. But while Jump Superstars continues to hog the spotlight of the handheld fighting game scene, Bleach DS: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei lurks in its shadow, waiting for its chance to shine.

Renji shows his flair

Chances are, you’ve never heard of the Bleach series. Fans of the show and manga may hate to admit it, but this anime is still fairly obscure to the gaming world. It’s about a teenager named Ichigo obtaining some kind of spiritual power and defending is friends and family from evil supernatural beings. But in case you don’t care about the story of the twenty-plus playable characters featured in this game, I’ll keep the explanation sweet and simple: everyone has big swords, magical powers, devastating summons, and a burning desire to go kick each other’s asses. However, the game has a Story Mode that initially allows you to take part in some of Ichigo’s more epic battles and eventually unlock more characters and storylines, but the Japanese-text heavy cutscenes and explanations won’t help those who can’t read the language. That can be a huge problem, considering that much of the progression in Ichigo’s Story Mode relies on completing certain objectives that influence how the storyline branches out. In fact, you can beat a slew of fighters, only to find yourself transferred back to a previous fight and enduring a seemingly endless loop. While consulting an FAQ can solve the problem, it can still prove to be a frustrating experience.

Though trying to beat the Story Mode can be confusing at times, the gameplay is far easier to understand. Once you’ve chosen amongst Ichigo and his cronies, you’ll be pitted against another character from the series. From that point on, it’s only a matter of a little experimentation and practice. Many of the characters feature swords that, aside from their obvious function of stabbing people, have different control styles and attack strategies. Ichigo wields a sword that can send out shockwaves if swung correctly, Kyoraku dual-wields giant sabers, Genryusai has a katana engulfed in flames, and Renji can turn his weapon from a blade into a whip a la Ivy from the Soul Calibur series. All of these offensive strategies are augmented with a small selection of special moves, ranging from Uryu’s aerial barrage of arrows to Ganju’s giant pig summon. Some of these special moves require you to fill up an energy gauge to a certain point, but they can be easily blended with a character’s regular attacks to mount a truly fearsome offensive. If you’re not into memorizing button commands, the Touch Screen features a set of icons that, when touched, automatically set off a special attack. But if you’re more of a defensive fighter, the game features double jumping, counters, aerial thrust movements and power gauge-based gliding, and four-player combat akin to the gameplay found in recent Guilty Gear games. Needless to say, this is one of the most technical handheld fighters ever seen.

Those ninjas are so scary, she just wet herself

Of course, not being able to read Japanese can make the game go stale fairly quickly. Thankfully, Bleach DS comes with a few other things to keep your eyes and hands glued to the dual screens. There’s a slew of artwork to be unlocked for the game’s massive gallery, a feature that fans of series will surely appreciate. The characters can be modified as well. While many of the fighters are incredibly versatile, their skills and abilities can be further developed via character cards. If you’ve beaten certain missions in the Story Mode or saved up enough cash, you can acquire a wide variety of character cards that can be used on the Touch Screen. The majority of these cards usually boost your characters attack power, lower an enemy’s defense, and so on. While this aspect seems a little gimmicky, it can prove fairly useful in the thick of battle. Of course, there’s no substitute for some good old-fashioned training in the game’s Practice Mode, or just duking it out in the various VS Modes. You’ll be able to take on a fairly challenging AI, bet it one-on-one, two against one, or even a four-fighter brawl for supremacy. But if slicing and dicing computerized enemies isn’t your thing, you can always challenge a friend via Wireless and Download VS Modes. And if all else fails, the game’s Wifi Connection allows you to fight against gamers around the world with only a tiny bit of lag to boot. Yeah, that might get your attention.

Thankfully, the solid gameplay is balanced out with a fairly decent presentation. While many DS owners may like the intense gameplay that Jump Superstars offers, many might be turned off by it’s seemingly cartoony graphics. For those of you looking for a bit more serious and detailed handheld fighter, Bleach DShas plenty to offer. All of the characters are depicted in their usual costumes, be it Ichigo in his flowing robes, Genryusai’s topless style, Komamura’s massive mask, and everything else in between. Many of the fighters have flowing, lively attack animations, like the breeze sending ripples over a shirttail, reflections and glowing light from a special attack, and a fairly smooth transition between chained attacks and combos. Though the music is largely forgettable, DS owners will be happy to know that each character has a unique voice that not only spouts out the typical grunts and screams, but some occasional Japanese dialogue as well. While the game may not be as fast-paced and intense as Jump Superstars or even Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the GBA, it’s still an impressive presentation of an even more impressive game.

There’s more enemies in this game than you can shake a stick at

I hate being an American DS owner sometimes. There are a ton of games being released on the other side of the Pacific that possess the same kind of quality of the most popular titles here in the States. Bleach DS is certainly one of them. While this game will be very appealing to the followers of the anime, it caters to gamers and handheld fighting game enthusiasts as well. It’s got a great roster of characters, allowing you to play around with various attack styles and strategies. It makes great use of the Touch Screen and the DS’s graphical and audio capabilities. It’s got plenty of challenge and replay value, what with all the unlockables and Story Mode battles to go through. Even its Wifi multiplayer was implemented perfectly, allowing fans and gamers to get together and duke it out. And if all else fails, you unlock and play through the game as a giant pig named Bonnie. Oh yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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