Blades of Time

Three years ago, I played and rather enjoyed the ever-so-slightly-questionable 3d brawler X-Blades. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, or even necessarily very good, but it let me run through some very impressive scenery and beat stuff up while staring at the backside of a character with very relaxed notions as to what constituted combat wear.

I am a boy-type person and I am allowed to admit this.

Anyway, despite a metacritic score hovering in the 50s, there were apparently enough other shameless boy-type people out there to justify a sequel, of sorts, though the publishers really aren’t pointing out the connection between that game and the just-released Blades of Time. The main character has the same name, sure, and carries a pair of big swords, and is more or less in the same line of work – that is to say, Resource Extraction By Killing Things And Taking Their Stuff, but the character designs have been tweaked to pander just a LITTLE less and the events from the other game are never referenced.

Before I move on to that game, one last word on X-Blades. When i played it in 2009, it surprised me primarily by being engaging enough that, when I was done with the story and unfortunate enough to get the Bad Ending, I started over and played through it again to get the Good Ending. I pretty much don’t ever do this.

Blades of Time, then, has also managed to pull off the unexpected and unlikely. That is, after I finished the storyline, I decided to take a look at the online multiplayer and have been enjoying the heck out of it, again something I pretty much never do.

To step back a moment, before I continue on talking about the game’s online component, I’ll take a moment to cover the single player game. You play as Ayumi, a blonde pig-tailed lass who apparently belongs to some sort of treasure hunting guild. Your guild has a sphere thingy that allows people to travel to “Dragon Land”, a realm of epic loot and great danger. They reserve the privilege of traveling to Dragon Land for the best and brightest of the guild, so you of course bust in to the ceremony where they’re sending people treasure hunting, kill all of your former guild mates and take their place. Once IN Dragon Land, you find that there’s no way to get back without invading an ancient temple and blah blah blah you have to kill a lot of stuff to get home.

You have the normal assortment of ways to interact with your hapless victims; you can kick them in the head, hit them with things sharp and pointy or simply shoot them. You also get a few magical abilities, standard stuff like throwing fire and so on.

The HOOK, as it were, is revealed in the game’s title. You can manipulate time itself. Basically, you hold down a button for a minute and watch yourself and everything else “rewind”, then release the button and watch it all play out again with the ability to move around and do things while it’s playing out. You create copies of yourself while this is happening, which allows for some genuinely bad-ass moments where, for example, you are shooting the same giant boss alien god robot thing from five different angles at once, or ripping open its armor so another copy of you can step in and stab it in the newly exposed vulnerable bits.

Also it’s used in some rather annoying button puzzles, where you have to stand on, for example, three buttons at once. This is less epic.

In a further example of telling Physics to get stuffed, you can, well, not precisely fly, but you can jump to an enemy flying 10 feet above your head, stab it a bit, jump from it as it dies and grab one of its friends, jump off HIM after you’ve stabbed him a bit and continue until you run out of flying enemies, at which point you realize that you are actually in mid-air over a bottomless chasm and do a little Wiley Coyote thing all the way to your doom.

I did eventually get the knack of finishing a spectacular air combo with a jump to a nearby piece of solid land, but I did die a few times before I got a feel for that.

Another thing that stands out is the game’s lack of hesitation in killing the player. Ayumi is a pretty fragile character and can’t take many hits before dying. To keep yourself alive, you have a few evasive moves – which you will get very familiar with – and the ability to heal yourself with the touch of a button, with only one small catch: to heal yourself, you have to charge up the heals by gaining Rage. To gain Rage, you need to hit things, and if you stop hitting things your Rage goes away. Playing more aggressively, then, and taking more risks, becomes your best bet for actually surviving. It’s a really neat mechanic.

I have not played many games in this genre, mind you, so I don’t know if this is all just stuff it’s ripping off from other titles. I’m still liking it.

One thing that it definitely DID take from another game, and here we come back to an earlier part of this post, is the multiplayer, and this is what has its claws hooked in me right and proper.

A few weeks ago, a friend talked me into trying League of Legends, and I hated it. I liked the whole thing where you were attacking enemy turrets, supported by a host of cannon fodder, killing the other side’s cannon fodder as it tried to destroy YOUR turrets, and eventually beating the other guy back to his base and destroying it. That was good.

On the other hand, I hated the slow pace, the overhead view and the mouse controls, and I especially hated the 5 on 5 format.

The multiplayer in Blades of Time is, therefore, just about perfect for me. It’s one-on-one (or one-vs-CPU, or two-vs-CPU) League of Legends-style objectives, from the point of view of a brawler, and it is super fast paced. You beat stuff up, you earn medals for stuff like number of bullets fired or number of combos, you collect runes from randomly spawning chests, the medals and runes eventually turn into upgrades for your character and you get progressively more powerful. Furthermore, since you CAN play offline games against the computer, you can get some basic upgrades accomplished before you throw yourself into playing with other humans. It’s addictive, and it’s impressive that they put so much work into the multiplayer aspects of a budget sequel to a very poorly received game.

Anyway, if anyone is still reading this, I will finish by saying that it’s a pretty neat game and available for PC and Mac from Steam. You should go buy it, play through the 10-hour single player campaign, and then join me online.

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