Developer: Fully Illustrated
Publisher: Darkwind Media
Release Date: 13/10/2017 (Nintendo Switch) TBC (Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
From simply taking a glance at Wulverblade I knew that I’d enjoy slicing apart my enemies with its epic 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up action; what I didn’t realise was that I’d actually be learning about the Roman Empire’s invasion along the way too. It was an additional surprising treat in a game that’s managed to keep me hooked to my Nintendo Switch lately, not just because it’s an entertaining little title but because it’s so damn challenging too.
Wulverblade puts you in 120 A.D., with the Roman army invading Britain and looking to march north and seize the rest of the land. However, they’ve got a battle on their hands; the Northern tribes won’t give up without a fight and they just so happen to be an incredibly vicious bunch. You take on the role of one of three Northerners and battle against the Romans in an epic encounter that mixes up real historical events with fantasy elements.
One thing that surprised me initially was how Wulverblade goes out of its way to try and teach players about the Roman invasion of Britain. It could’ve easily just used the historical set-up and left it at that, but instead there are plenty of history notes to find about the events that are taking place, the locations you trek through, and even the items you come across. Learning about them means that you’ll have to read quite a bit, yet I found myself so enthralled with the whole thing that I actually eagerly anticipated finding every little of information I could. It’s a clever implementation by the development team and something I’d like to see more of in future games that incorporate real historical events.
Wulverblade’s gameplay will feel familiar to anyone who has played the likes of Streets of Rage or Golden Axe, with the 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up action playing in a similar vein to those arcade classics. There are simple combo mechanics in place that are performed by mashing the attack button, whilst you’re also able to bring heavy and ranged attacks into the mix by picking up the countless weapons that are littered across the battlefield. It’s all very simplistic in design and accessible enough for just about anyone to pick up and play, but Wulverblade is definitely a game that’ll take skill and patience to master – don’t expect to be able to button mash your way to victory or you might be in for a nasty surprise…
Whilst your offensive skills will be familiar to just about anyone, Wulverblade spices things up a bit by putting a strong emphasis on your defensive capabilities too. You’re able to block incoming attacks, which can be incredibly important when facing off against the plethora of foes who gang up on you or to protect yourself from enemy projectiles. You can also perform dodge rolls to quickly move out of the way of attacks, or to alternatively slip your way behind the enemy and get a few quick shots in. Believe me, you’ll be absolutely inundated with enemies at times, so learning how best to utilise the defensive manoeuvres is vital if you’re going to survive the Roman onslaught. It just goes to show that there’s a lot more depth to Wulverblade’s combat than you’d think, especially given its old-school style of gameplay.
You’re also armed with two special abilities to get yourself out of sticky situations: your Rage attack and the support of the Wolves.
Once you’ve pounded down enough enemies to fill up your meter, you can activate your Rage attack and inflict a hell of a lot more damage upon your opponents. Not only that, but you’re invulnerable and will see your health recharge when it’s activated too. It’s incredibly useful when surrounded by foes and you need to wipe them out quickly, whilst the boost to your health can be the difference between life and death in the heat of battle.
The Wolves on the other hand reminded me of the Police support attacks from the Streets of Rage series, with the player able to summon a pack of wolves once per a level to maul any enemies on the screen. Like the Rage attack, it’s a useful ability to have and can certainly change the tide of a battle when used at the right moment. Each of the special abilities can be game changers, which is great seeing as Wulverblade is such a challenging game.
Anyone who thinks they’ll get through Wulverblade with ease will have quite the shock, with the game proving to be one of the toughest 2D beat ‘em ups I’ve played in some time. It’s quite fitting really – I remember the arcade classics used to be tricky back in their day, so the fact Wulverblade beat managed to beat my ass time and time again brought back some memories…
Whilst it’s hard though, it never feels unfair. You’re armed with plenty of different attacks whilst your defensive capabilities are efficient too, so a lot of the game’s difficulty is based upon how skilled you are as opposed to how mean the enemies are. Don’t get me wrong, enemies will fill the screen and some of them have some vicious attacks, but nothing in the game is ever impossible – it’s just very, very tough.
Checkpoints aren’t very forgiving either, with only one per each of the game’s fairly lengthy levels. This could actually prove quite frustrating; I didn’t mind struggling through levels, getting beaten by enemies, and learning how to conquer them the next time around, but the fact I’d have to play through a lot of the same stuff over and over again could become annoying. It’s very old-school in design which in many ways complimented the genre, but at the same time it brought on more feelings of frustration rather than nostalgia. Let’s just say that gamers who don’t have the patience to persevere through the challenge might reach their tipping point when finding they’ve got to re-play through the same tricky sections time and time again.
In many ways the high difficulty actually encourages players to play the game in its co-op mode, which in honesty is probably the most enjoyable way to play Wulverblade anyway. Naturally, any 2D beat ‘em up is best played with a friend and it’s the case here, with the frantic action and tough difficulty a lot more bearable when you’ve got another warrior by your side – if I’m going to be honest, it was the only way in which I actually managed to beat the game. Best of all, the game takes advantage of the Nintendo Switch’s dual Joy-Con controllers, so it’s easy to get two players going in the game at any time.
One thing that I loved the most about Wulverblade was its stunning visual style, with the game’s spectacular environmental and character design standing out as one of the highlights of the whole experience. There’s so much attention to detail in just about everything with each level feeling like it’s actually hosting these atmospheric battles, with a mixture of bloody remains, startling lighting effects, and roaming wildlife helping make the remnants of the Roman’s warpath stand out. I loved how you’d see a lot of these details in the foreground too, with the game world never settling on being just behind the player but also coming to life right in front of all of the action too. I simply adored the aesthetic style of the game, with Wulverblade easily being one of the prettiest 2D games I’ve played in some time.
Outside of the game’s main campaign there’s also an Arena mode where you can battle countless waves of enemies and compete for the highest score on the online leaderboard. I’ve not played around with it too much, but score-chasers who’ve got a sadistic side and want more of the game’s brutal action should have plenty of fun facing off against the almost endless supply of Romans.
Wulverblade brings epic 2D beat ‘em up action to the Nintendo Switch in style, with the game’s stunning visuals and brutal gameplay proving to be the highlights of the experience. It makes for a thoroughly entertaining side-scroller that’ll keep pushing your skills the further you progress, but also offers plenty of satisfying combat with its great blend of offensive and defensive manoeuvres.
The tough difficulty certainly won’t be for everyone and I’m sure some of the challenges will frustrate even the more seasoned beat ‘em up veterans out there, but those who persevere will have a lot of fun slicing and dicing Wulverblade’s endless supply of Romans apart.