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BlazBlue: Continuum Shift
Graphics: 8.8
Gameplay: 9
Sound: 8.6
Control: 8.4
Replay Value: 9.1
Rating: 8.6

Note: We normally don't put any catch-up reviews (reviews on games that came out over 1 month ago) on the main page, but SO many people requested this, and I just had to do it.  Apologies on the delay.

The first BlazBlue was a blessing for old-school, hardcore fighting fans, who typically stick to the most in-depth, demanding games that require the utmost skill and patience. The follow-up, Continuum Shift, will ask that any player do the same once again, although Arc System Works has implemented one particular gameplay element that immediately makes the game more accessible. The only downside here is that if you’ve already played the original title, the new characters alone might not be enough of a reason to nab the latest. That being said, you won’t find a better example of brilliant, intricate fighting anywhere, and the gorgeous 2D presentation remains as pleasant as ever. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the genre, it’s not difficult to spot the sheer level of depth, polish and longevity in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. Fighting fans, you’ve got another winner.

Who says 2D is dead? Well, for the most part, it is…just don’t tell these developers. They have provided us with an example of what could be done in the 2D world, if designers would simply put forth the requisite effort. Although they could probably take another step in terms of clarity and sharpness, the amount of character and environmental detail is impressive, and those special effects are flawlessly beautiful. The animations always remain fluid and a joy to behold and with so many different backdrops and settings, and so many very distinct characters and fighting styles, there’s no way you’ll see everything there is to see in a few hours. This game is a graphical tour-de-force within its lesser-appreciated 2D realm and it’s tough to find any significant flaws. It’s just so pretty; you’re gonna love it.

As you might expect, we’ve got the lame-duck voiceovers that drag the sound category down but other than that, the effects and soundtrack are perfect for the style and attitude of BlazBlue. Every strike is crisp and some seriously satisfying effects accompany the crowd-pleasing special skills. After going through a few battles, the music started to seem a bit repetitive but in reality, there are lots of different tracks; they’re all just quite similar, that’s all. I suppose the purists will almost try to claim that the horrid voice acting is part of the old-fashioned charm, but that’s not much of an excuse. However, some of the voices really aren’t too bad at all; the narrator for the Story Mode was actually decent. Besides, this one is all about the gameplay, and the emphatic in-battle statements made by the characters spice things up, and almost make us forget about cringing during cut-scenes.

Although the depth is absolutely insane, you might be surprised to know that at its core, there are only four attacks in this particular combat mechanic: weak, medium, strong and Drive; although each character has his or her own inventory of moves, it really all boils down to these four commands. …that being said, you almost can’t imagine what the developers do with those four commands. At first, during the first hour or so, you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, this is really pretty and fun, but maybe it isn’t anything too special,” and then, something will click. After that click, your state of mind quickly changes to, “holy sh**…I’ll never learn all this.” Each character has a specific super attack (Ragna uses his Drive to absorb an opponent’s health, for example), and there are far more advanced fighters that demand a ton of attention. Just because you get pretty good with one doesn’t mean you’ll have any success at all with another.

There’s just so much to see and do! Then, you’ve got the gameplay options- in addition to playing online, and the standard Arcade and Versus modes, there’s the lengthy and well-produced Story Mode and the Challenge Mode, which will ask you to complete a variety of difficult battle objectives. Being more a fan of RPGs, and knowing how some role-playing adventures can take some time to get started, I was surprised to see the build-up in the Story Mode's plot. If you sit and watch and listen to the introduction and various storytelling segments, this mode could take a while. However, you are watching more often than not when involved in the Story; you’re waiting to fight and many times, they just don’t know when to end a scene. It gets a little frustrating. I’m also unsure of whether or not this would appeal to fans of this particular genre; I doubt they’re even interested in such an option, especially when it features a story that takes time to unwind.

But still, I consider it a bonus and I be the critic, so that’s all that matters right now. The other thing we need to talk about is the Beginner Mode, the most significant new addition: basically, it allows you to pull off complicated combination attacks simply by hitting the same button over and over. I’m not entirely sure why it’s here, though…it’s too childish and simple for hardcore fighting fans – most certainly the intended audience – and it doesn’t really help you prepare for the normal mode, where you actually have to hit the correct buttons in the correct order. I guess it makes the game more accessible but they overdid it. Even so, I kinda liked being able to see so many awesome combos from so many different characters; it was a dazzling display that only required some simple button presses. And everything else about the game, ranging from the frame rate to the graphical display to the depth of modes to the intricacy and beauty of the combat…it’s all great.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is about as excellent as fans would expect. If you liked the first, there’s almost no chance you won’t like the sequel; the only question – as I stated before – is whether or not you think it’s enough of an upgrade to warrant a purchase. I will say you can spend a ridiculous amount of time with it; even just going through the Story Mode and selecting a favorite character to master could take you a very long time. The main attraction is clear: the smoothness, complexity, and overall gorgeousness of the entire production.  The artistic flair may be subjective but there’s no denying the huge amount of polish and professionalism. The only drawback was going online; there did seem to be a bit of lag and for some reason, it didn't seem to be any more fun playing against human players.  But it's still a good option for any one-on-one fighting game, right?  This product is obviously a labor of love, created by people who adore this genre and this style, and that’s to be commended.

9/2/2010   Ben Dutka