Wulverblade (Xbox One Review)
Wulverblade doesn’t quite scratch my side-scrolling, beat’em up itch. Its graphic design is amazing and storytelling superb, although the core gameplay suffers from lack of diversity and combat feels wholly gritty and intense but what it lacks is any depth. And it just isn’t hitting the mark.
Set in the year 120 A.D., Britannia is fighting a losing battle against the ever encroaching Roman Empire. With over half of Britain under Roman control, it’s up to the north to fend off the Ninth Legion; one of the most brutally savage companies in the Roman army. Developer Darkwind Media aimed to place significance in Wulverblade’s historical accuracy, fighting through locales native to Caledonia and introducing small developer logs between missions that show how Scotland’s famous stone circles/standing stones influenced Wulverblade’s overall production. Which is nice, as it softens the pace of Wulverbalde’s constant flurry of blood-filled stages.
And the pace definitely doesn’t let up as each stage is filled to the brim with steel-clad legionaries for Caradoc, Brennus and Guinevere to slice and dice their way through. The standard beat’em up formula is intact: continually clear the screen of enemies and move to the right, occasionally stopping to pick up the odd piece of chicken here or there. Our three main protagonists follow typical archetype brawlers. Caradoc is the all-rounder with decent stats, Brennus is the heavy hitter but weak to getting hit himself, and Guinevere is the agile combatant that has swift attacks with little damage output. While none fair too differently in the long run, as there is no character progression, it’s best just to choose which one you feel plays better in terms of looks and style.
Where Wulverblade falls short is its ability to keep me hooked on each engagement I had with any form of opposition. Other beat’em up’s have varying degrees of combos you could pull off – some even implement aerial combos – but Wulverblade is rooted to the ground. You have all the staple moves in your repertoire to use, such as uppercuts, parries, shield bashes etc. But none of them flow. Leaving the standard mash ‘X’ combo to be the go to move string for nearly every fight in the game. And unsurprisingly this lead to a superficial sense of enjoyment. I was easily carving my way through Romans left, right, and centre but that sense of accomplishment gained was nothing more than an illusion. My brain deceiving me into thinking I was having fun.
This is further hounded by the potential for extended movesets where upon picking up a heavy weapon unlocks the ability to actually use your heavy attack, the ‘Y’ button. At least until the weapon breaks after 5 or 6 hits, then it’s back to the drawing board. If handled better, these heavy weapons could’ve replaced existing movesets instead of being bound to a single button, unlocking the potential for greater depth in combat and just making each fight more engaging.
The developers did sort of rectify this slightly by introducing ‘Wulver” mode, where each character turns into their wolven counterpart. Shedding their sword and shield for a pair of claws. Movesets remain largely unchanged apart from players no longer require the need to pick up a weapon in order to use their heavy attack function, giving player’s more freedom to play around with their foes. However, this is all a little too late as ‘Wulver’ mode is unlocked at the final breadth of the last mission, meaning players have to hopefully bash their way through to the end to unlock in hopes of not feeling fatigued by stagnant repetition.
That being said, levels tend to be 10-15 minutes in length, with only 8 levels total, the need to keep the player engaged is at a minimum. While the overall main story is short, it doesn’t lack in quality. The artstyle is absolutely superb, with colourful comic book-esque visuals that seamlessly flow from one screen to the next. Accompanied by admirable voice acting, mostly gritty and flem fuelled Scottish cries, brings Caradoc and company to life.
As far as those 8 levels go, that’s all you’ll really be partaking in for Wulverblade’s campaign. But players have to other options at their disposal: Arena and Beast mode. Arena is a singular stage of the players choosing where you must fend of wave after wave of enemies in hopes of hitting a highscore on the ever illustrious leaderboards. And Beast modes see’s you replay the story in ‘Wulver’ form. While this is enticing, I did struggle to replay the game multiple times, even though its art is alluring – the gameplay still doesn’t hold up over numerous sessions, even in beast form.
Granted you like games such as Golden Axe (who doesn’t?!) you’ll most likely find some enjoyment in Wulverblade’s short campaign. But it’s as basic as it gets. There’s a clear dedication from the developer’s to put forward the best possible story to showcase the heart and soul of Britannia’s history, it just failed to fully satisfy.