Blade Strangers, from developer Studio Saizenson and publisher Nicalis, is a cross-over fighting game featuring characters from the studio’s previous creations and a few guest appearances from various indie darlings. The primary cast includes characters from Code of Princess and Umihara Kawase, but you can also play as Curly from Cave Story, Azure Striker Gunvolt, Isaac from The Binding of Isaac, and even Shovel Knight. Rounding out the roster are characters named Helen and Lina, original characters made exclusively for this title.
The roster may at first seem small compared to other similar types of fighters with a total character count of fourteen, but Blade Strangers is being sold at a budget price and all characters are available from the get-go. Despite the small cast, I had a great deal of fun playing with all the characters. Each one is brimming with personality and that’s reflected with their over-the-top moves. For example, Yumihara can crush enemies with a giant whale and Curly can summon an army of 8-bit minions from the Cave Story world.
Blade Strangers takes place in one grand virtual world controlled by super advanced AI servers. In this world an evil entity named Lina threatens the world by anting to eat up all the data in existence. Only the Blade Stranger, the champion warrior, is strong enough to stop the world from being consumed, but the only problem is that all the Blade Strangers have already been defeated. This causes the advanced servers to summon warriors from different worlds in order to battle it out for the title of Blade Stranger.
The character models look amazing with each movement feeling fluid and precise, a cornerstone for every successful fighter. Unfortunately, this level of detail doesn’t extend to every aspect of Blade Strangers presentation. The backgrounds can appear barren and the menus don’t stick out at all. While playing the Nintendo Switch version, which runs a 720p in both docked and handheld, the lack of anti-aliasing some of the character edges can look jaggy when playing on an HD TV.
Non-fighting game fans are often turned off by the genres complex moves, including long button combinations and complicated button inputs. Thankfully, Blade Strangers has opted for a simple move-set, with pulling off special moves easily by simply hitting the right bumper. Even with the simplified controls, Blade Strangers still requires some strategy where well timed blocking and careful management of skill points will oftentimes mean the difference between winning and losing.
Controlling your characters follows a light and heavy punch system that places low and high kicks with a unique and skill attack. It’s nice to not have to perform quarter circles to activate any moves and are incredibly newcomer friendly. Attacks primarily require the player to press a certain combination of buttons together which can even be mapped to a single button make the move even easier perform.
Similar to some other similar fighters, Blade Strangers allows for you to turn the tide of the match to your favor by using the heat up nodes. This can be activated when your health is low and grants you additionally strength, as well as the ability to pull off special moves that consume less skill points.
The mode selection screen follows your typical fighting game fare. You have Arcade mode, Story mode, Tutorial modes, and the local two-player Versus. There are also included a Mission mode where you have to pull off a complex string of moves, and Survival modes where you have to fight as many opponents as possible. I really appreciated the in-depth Training mode which gave you the ability to customize a AI controlled character to more effectively learn new strategies for characters and also had a call-up menu where you could see each character’s movesets.
I tried the Online mode, but unfortunately I didn’t have much success finding too many other players. The matches I did participate in had some lag issues, but were still playable and enjoyable for the most part. My only concern the with online matchmaking is how unspecified the region filter is for selecting a single area. Many countries are lumped together and this may make it more difficult to find specific friends to play online.
Overall, Blade Strangers may not be a groundbreaking title as it mainly is a traditional 2D fighter, but is solid in execution and has an easy learning curve for newcomers. Where it really shines is in its accessible and simple fighting system and cast of quirky characters from other indie game gems will make it more appealing to the casual demographic. In many ways it reminds me of Skullgirls, another simple quirky fighter that never gained much traction in the tournament scene, but became a strong cult classic and I can see Blade Strangers going down this similar path.