BlazBlue: Continuum Shift (XBOX 360) Review

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift likes to take risks.  For a series willing to bend the fighting genre's core concepts to their breaking points, BlazBlue offers what few fighting games do nowadays: an experience to think and play in new and interesting ways.  With that said, BlazBlue is also incredibly creative and plays intelligently, offering up a diverse cast of fascinatingly bizarre characters while demanding some skill from the player to get the most out of them.  There weren't any real oversights that needed correcting in a sequel, Continuum Shift simply adds more on top of the already-fantastic BlazBlue core.

If you're new to the BlazBlue universe, you might want to know about the basic gameplay: A match can consist of one to five rounds known as "rebels". To win a round, one player must either incapacitate the other by inflicting enough damage through various attacks or by having more remaining health after the round's timer depletes.

During each rebel, players fill a Heat Gauge which can be used for advanced techniques such as Distortion Drives, Rapid Cancels, Counter Assaults, and certain characters' attacks (Jin/Hakumen). The Heat Gauge can be filled via dealing damage, taking damage and perfectly blocking attacks.

There have been standard tweaks and adjustments made in the sequel's game mechanics –the Guard Libra System (the small tug-of-war gauge in Calamity Trigger that would fill as the player blocked), has been completely overhauled, for one, and the Burst defensive moves have been changed – but unless you're the type who plays fighting games seriously you won't really notice.

Continuum Shift also features a simplified "Beginner mode” control scheme that rewards new players with push button special moves and automatically timed combos.  The game's controls are greatly simplified into something akin to Smash Brothers (directional control plus special button equals special move).  It works better with some characters than others, but for the absolute beginner it makes the game less overwhelming; tap some buttons, have some fun.

The new Tutorial mode is also a welcome addition, covering the basics and explaining the game's myriad systems and gauges and covers the game's systems from the very basic (here is how you move around) to the advanced (mind games, proper spacing and zoning, combo strings). New players and even seasoned players will find this to be a godsend as the already complex and slightly unreasonable battle system can take some getting used to.

Pretty much everything returns from the first game, each offering a slew of new content – most notable is the Story mode.  This mode in particular offers a substantial amount of new content while still retaining the quality of the original.  In Story mode all of the characters have full, branching story paths that pick up directly where Calamity Trigger left off.  In addition, the once convoluted story now takes its time to explain itself more effectively, even if it does involve a lot of incessant banter.

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In addition, Continuum Shift features several new characters including: Tsubaki, a friend and comrade-in-arms of several of the other characters who has been ordered to hunt them down for desertion; Hazama, the series' main antagonist; console-exclusive Mu-12; and Lambda-11, who is essentially a palette-swapped Nu-13 whose moves have been balanced.  Given that the BlazBlue roster is much smaller than practically every fighting game's lineup to begin with, it's a similar proportional increase, but getting four new characters as opposed to ten does feel like a let down.  On the other hand, because each character is distinct from the next, utilizing entirely different tactics in combat, less may be more.

Speaking of which, one of BlazBlue's key features has always been its radically inventive character design, both visually and technically. Characters in this game instantly stand out, and the radical color selections make them even more stunning. The same can be said about the game's many environments, each more vibrant and lush than the next. If there’s a case for what can be done with modern hardware and pixel art, this is it.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is undoubtedly one of the best fighting games available; it oozes style, incorporates some truly radical ideas into its gameplay and sports a level of polish not always seen in fighting games. The new characters are great and feel like solid and well-designed additions to the roster, and if you like the series' story then the more revealing plot will undoubtedly please – even if it does seem drawn out at times.  For veteran fans, this is an essential buy, not only because of the reduced price tag but also because of the various new features and improvements made. Like it's predecessor, Continuum Shift is as intricate and daring as ever, establishing itself as one of the most unique fighting games to hit shelves.