The acclaimed 2D fighter from Arc System Works out of Japan gets the Vita treatment from Aksys.
Vita owners looking for a thoroughly deep 2D fighting experience need only to check out BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend (BBCSE). The depth of BBCSE does not come from some ungodly amount of playable characters (there are "just" nineteen here). Instead, it comes from mastering the numerous minute gameplay mechanics and experiencing a considerable selection of online and offline modes.
When you first get to the menu of BBCSE, you'll notice it's sixteen entries deep: Tutorial, Arcade, Versus, Score Attack, UnlimitedMars, Training, Challenge, Abyss, Story, Gallery, Replay Theater, Network, Network (Ad Hoc), Playstation Store, Options, and Exit. Yes, there is both a tutorial and a training mode because this game includes a lot of mechanics that can really make the difference between success and failure, which in most cases translates to how enjoyable your experience will be.
The tutorial mode alone, to fully complete it, would likely take a few hours. Within it players learn the absolute basics, including dashing and double jumping, to more advanced techniques such as Guard Crush, Distortion Break, and Astral Heat. There is also a Strategies section to help you learn more about each of the playable characters and what their strengths are. To be honest, it's a tremendous amount of information to take in. I don't consider myself a hardcore fighting gamer, but I was impressed, excited, and simultaneously intimidated by the depth of BBCSE's fighting system. If you're new to BlazBlue like me, the Tutorial and Training modes are indispensable; expect to spend your first several hours here.
As a newcomer to the series I wasn't sure where Extend fit in. The long and short of it is that it is a sequel to BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. The story mode has received several updates for some of the playable characters and one of the main characters from Calamity, Relius Clover, is now playable. Of course balance tweaks from the original game are included and a super -- and mean super -- difficult single player mode (with leaderboard support) called UnlimitedMars is here, too. I have yet to win a round (known as a 'rebel' in BlazBlue terms) if that gives you any indication of how bad I am at this game, and/or how hard this mode is.
BBCSE is the type of game that, if you put in the work and stick with it, you're going to get rewarded. Not just by the XP system that keeps track of activities across multiple modes, but just in seeing your hard work pay off, either against the CPU across several compelling offline modes, or against others online. Of course, to get even to that point you have to buy into the game to some degree.
All that to say, this is the most complete version of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift available. It's certainly not short on content in any regard. The core gameplay is solid, but has a significant learning curve if you want to get a fuller grasp of the experience (true for most any fighter, but it felt like especially so in this case). There is a Stylish mode that is a little bit easier in terms of executing certain special moves, but I'd recommend just sticking with the default 'Technical' mode.
In terms of controls, they are responsive, but a little bit confusing at first. The game refers to Square as A, B as Triangle, Circle as C, and your Drive attack (a strong, unique attack for each character) is D. Certain functions make use of pressing both buttons at once, and your powerful FN1 attacks are executed with LT. Vita-exclusive controls are actually pretty impressive. Players have full control over how they want to map their control scheme and you can assign a variety of commands to the rear touchpad, even using different areas of the touchpad for different functions. This provided me with some assistance, but it's going to take me a while to get used to tapping a touchpad as input to a fast paced 2D fighter.
Getting back to the playable modes, the one I have spent most of my time in is Arcade. Here, you can select any of the characters and fight through 10 CPU controlled opponents. Each character has a story, so completionists will have their hands full beating Arcade with all nineteen fighters. Versus mode is simply you vs the CPU in a one-off battle. Score Attack pits you against the CPU and supports leaderboards. The Challenge mode is precisely that, while Abyss brings enemies in waves, allowing you to rack up XP if you can hold out. The Story mode
provides a richer story than the Arcade character stories do. There is also a Gallery mode containing a host of media from music videos to pictures. The Replay Theater goes along with this theme; here, you can watch your own recordings or those that you pulled down from the PlayStation Network. Finally, the network modes support local wifi play and online battles over the PSN. Having the ability to play over the PSN right off of the Vita is a superb feature. In my experience, I have yet to have any connection issues or trouble finding at least a few
matches to either participate in or spectate.
All of these quality modes and content are clearly good for the sake of this game, I'm very impressed with what's offered here. The presentation is also excellent -- beautiful, detailed, and colorful artwork is complimented by a decent soundtrack and FX pacage. I will say that the load times can feel a bit long at times, but in any other regard I was happy with the presentation.
Still, despite this very solid package, I'm personally having a hard time seeing myself playing BBCSE in the weeks to come. A lot of this has to do with the character roster -- I just can't find any character that I really like, in terms of their bio, and more importantly, in how they play. I don't feel invested in the story or in any of the characters, whereas with Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, just to name the most popular two, I am able to find multiple characters to "connect" with. The art style is also a barrier to me, even if fairly small. This is has a textbook Japanese anime presentation to it, right from the opening cutscene which features a female vocalized pop tune. I respect anime, but to be blunt, I just don't like it as much for a fighting videogame when compared to what Project Soul did with SoulCalibur V, or what the Unreal 3 Engine did for Mortal Kombat, for example. As always, your mileage may, and likely will, vary.