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Wulverblade Review: Bloody History

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Side-scrolling beat ’em ups aren’t so prevalent these days, but when they do come around they always get compared to the best of them all: Streets of Rage 2.

Now more than 25 years old, Streets of Rage 2 is just as good today as it ever was, and nothing since has been able to beat it. The latest side-scrolling beat ’em up to enter the fray, Wulverblade, fares a little better than most, but still stops short of greatness.

In Wulverblade you take control of one of three Caledonian warriors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, as you fight to halt the Roman invasion of the north. Campaign mode initially offers up two ways to play: standard, which gives you a choice of two difficulty levels, checkpoints and the ability to save your progress, and arcade, which gives you three lives and three continues and then sends you on your merry way. No matter which option you choose, however, you’re in for a brutal time.

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Attacking your enemies is largely a case of hammering the standard attack button to perform a flurry of hits. You can mix it up with a dash, uppercut or jumping attack to add a bit of variety, but that’s pretty much it for the majority of the game. As such, it’s a bit shallow.

Sometimes you might find a secondary weapon that can be picked up to facilitate strong attacks, but after a while it will break. Filling a meter that sits behind your health bar also allows you to enter rage mode, in which you can attack at an alarming rate while restoring your health. And once per stage you can call upon some friendly wolves to attack your enemies. Wulverblade has everything you’d expect of a game of the genre, then, but that just makes the gameplay feel generic.

Perhaps the only way that Wulverblade truly differentiates itself from the side-scrolling beat ’em up crowd is that it allows you to block your enemies’ attacks. Additionally, a well-timed block works as a parry, giving you a small window to perform a damaging counter-attack. Some enemy moves are prefaced with an exclamation mark warning you of danger and allowing you to prepare your shield in time. Others are not, and the delay it takes for you to ready your shield means you’re likely to take the hit. Also, some attacks are unblockable, forcing you to either try move out of the way or evade the attack with a well-timed roll. That sounds easy, but the sluggish controls make it more troublesome than it ought to be.

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The sluggish movement and controls of Wulverblade add to the frustration that can be frequently felt when playing it. It’s a game in which you need to make use of the space around you, but your slow movement speed coupled with the fact that you’re so often hindered by objects in the environment means that it just becomes a slog. You fight wave after wave of a limited range of enemies, and quite frankly the whole experience becomes rather tedious quite quickly.

Wulverblade does have some high points though. Being able to pick up a myriad of throwable weapons from the ground allows for some amusing ranged attacks; who doesn’t like throwing a decapitated head at their enemies? Or even an arm? Wulverblade is very bloody and brutal, and I like that a lot. Unfortunately though, picking things up is tied to the same button as attack, so when there are items on the floor and an enemy in the front of you, your character often spends his time picking things up rather than attacking.

Another aspect of Wulverblade that I like a lot and didn’t expect is its emphasis on history. It’s almost educational with its retelling of events and plethora of notes and videos giving you information about items and places of interest. You can tell a lot of care has gone into making the game, which is also evidenced by the beautiful visuals and accomplished voice acting. For a downloadable title, it’s got great production values.

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Completing Wulverblade‘s campaign mode opens up yet another bonus mode for those who wish to play through it yet again with a twist, and there’s also an arena mode which lets you partake in some brutal combat without the story trappings. As a package it’s fairly well-rounded, especially when you factor in that it allows for local two-player co-op too, but it falls short of being essential due to its gameplay just not exciting like it should.

If you’re a fan of the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre then Wulverblade certainly does enough for you to consider checking it out, but it just doesn’t feel mechanically sound enough to truly impress. It’s a shame, given the game’s strong art direction, historic bent and variety of gameplay modes.

Wulverblade is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.
Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!