Bleach: Shattered Blade
Bleach. What a name. Upon hearing it, one might assume that this incredibly popular anime is about doing laundry. There have been stranger concepts, after all. There are no washing machines or fabric softener here. Bleach is all about three things: swords, souls, and kicking ass. It follows the saga of Ichigo, a student who accidentally acquired the abilities of the Grim Reaper. The rest of the series basically involves him traveling between his world and the Soul Society (aka the afterlife) and his mission to defeat whatever evil demonic forces that show up. While Ichigo is the main character, the large ensemble cast of warriors (living or otherwise) creates intricately developed themes of love, betrayal, revenge, greed, etc. But in case you don’t feel like learning everything about the series, here’s the bottom line: demonic sword fighting aplenty.
Get all that? Hope so. Bleach: Shattered Blade assumes that you know the plot and drops you right into the middle of the story. Some guy named Aizen decided to start a rebellion in Soul Society a few days ago, and now everyone’s dealing with the aftermath. But more importantly, the Sokyoku has been destroyed. This mystical weapon is supposed to hold more spiritual power than anything ever crafted, and its remaining shards can still give a person a Hell of a boost. Since collecting more pieces means attaining more power, all of the key players in town are scrambling to get in on the action. Some want its power to save lives, while others are just looking for personal benefit. However, everyone is desperate enough to kill for it. Yes, the plot really is that clichèd.
It’s not like you’re going to be spending much time focusing on it, though. While Shattered Blade features over 30 playable characters, only a fraction of them have fully developed storylines in the game’s Episode Mode. Disappointing indeed, considering how many current console fighters thrive on character-driven storylines. The majority of the game’s roster is only accessible via the Arcade Mode, which pits your character against a gauntlet of eight characters in three-round matches. Fans of the manga/anime will be glad to see that each fighter comes with his or her own stash of signature attacks and spiritual summons. You’ll get to see a wide array of Bankai supermoves, ranging from simple attack/defensive boosts, screen-filling energy waves, giant snake monstrosities, fiery tornados, and even some Hot Pink Cherry Blossoms of Doom. While these attacks look pretty awesome, only those familiar with the series will understand their significance.
Actually performing such moves, however, is a little unusual. You’ve got to build up your spirit energy (conveniently shown in a gauge at the bottom of the screen) before you can let loose. Dishing out regular attacks or taking damage nets you plenty of energy, but you can save yourself the trouble by simply shaking the Nunchuck Controller attachment for a few seconds. But if you want to end your matches quickly (at the expense of missing out on all the badass theatrics), you’ll need to rely more on your character’s standard attacks. The WiiMote acts as the hilt of your virtual sword, allowing you to chop vertically, slash horizontally, and stab with a quick thrust. If you wave the controller around wildly, you’ll be able to pull off a 30-hit combo with little effort. However, such random attacks do you little good; they’re so weak that they inflict almost no damage. Instead, you’ll likely use a few quick moves as a setup for Critical Attacks, which allow you inflict a greater amount of damage and pierce your opponent’s guard. This, along with other Special Attacks, leaves you wide open for countering and evasion maneuvers.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Hacking and slashing with the WiiMote is incredibly fun (and potentially tiring), but the gameplay could have used a bit more fine-tuning and balancing. Each movement costs you (hence being able to perform 30-hit quick combos) a bit of power from a second energy gauge at the top of the screen. Critical and Special Attacks use up even more of your energy. Bearing that in mind, you can easily abuse the system by performing some quick attacks to knock your opponent off guard, then follow it up with a more powerful move. While your enemy is knocked down, your gauge will recharge long enough to perform the same tactic over and over again. If you feel like using blunt force, you can rely on Critical Attacks; you’ll usually be able to overpower your opponent’s onslaught after a few slow-motion impacts. Should both characters use the same attack at the same time, you’ll be forced to endure a glorified Rock-Paper-Scissors mini-game involving you guessing how your opponent will move. You’ll get to choose between swinging vertically, horizontally, or stabbing; since one is weak against the other, you’ll need to get the best of five exchanges to win the mini-duel. It’d be a lot less irritating if the game recognized your movements more accurately.
At least the rest of the fighting is both fun and challenging, assuming you don’t feel like exploiting the combat mechanics. Besides, there’s tons of stuff to unlock. You’ll have spent quite a while in Arcade Mode by the time you’ve unlocked every character, alternate costume, and extra fighting stages. By playing through that and the Episode Mode, you’ll amass thousands of bonus points that can be used to purchase graphics and in-game cutscenes for the massive Art Gallery. It’s a shame that the game designers didn’t provide such incentive for playing in the Versus Mode. There is no online multiplayer either, which would have added so much more replay value and competitive gameplay. The game tries to make it up to you by including unlockable 3D character model displays and voice/music sound tests, but they probably won’t keep you entertained for long.
That goes double for the hardcore fans that despise the English voice acting for the series. It’s not like they’re terrible; you can hear all of the fury and intensity behind each character’s attacks. Hearing Ichigo scream, “This is…my BANKAI!” and his other impassioned battle cries can be memorable. But since these characters spout so many lines when they do their supermoves (all of which feature cutscenes that can’t be skipped) in every battle, you’re going to tire of them quickly. At least the Bankai summons are awesome; chances are, you’ve never seen a fighting game that involves someone conjuring up a giant red-headed snake and commanding it to ravage the battlefield. Or watching some kid spout a pair of solid ice wings and start flying around, for that matter. Veterans of the series will appreciate the attention given to the little details, like how the characters’ cel-shaded costumes transform or react to movement. They’ll likely understand the significance of the barren wastelands, darkened alleyways, and the handful of other battleground backgrounds as well. But for the rest, the fast-paced sword action will be enough to look at.
It’s not that Bleach: Shattered Blade is a bad game. There’s just far too much wasted potential. It’s fun slicing and dicing your way through so many unique characters with the WiiMote. With plenty of unlockables, fans and newcomers alike will have plenty with which to contend. If you follow the anime or manga, you’ll feel right at home with all the awesome attacks, flashy summons, and heated character interaction. Fighting game fanatics, however, might want to give this a rental before diving headlong into something they might not like. This game isn’t so much about technical gameplay as it is about letting loose and beating the Hell out of your opponent. The combat mechanics are easy to exploit, effectively leaving the gameplay unbalanced and somewhat shallow. The utterly lacking multiplayer and somewhat inaccurate motion sensing don’t help, either. But hey, at least your arms will get a workout.