The summer lull is over and now the lovely people of TSA can begin to explore pastures new. With the inevitable big hitters being unleashed there can on occasion be titles that fall through the cracks and one would be forgiven for assuming that Blade Kitten is just such a title. Released for the XBLA, PlayStation Network and PC, Blade Kitten sees the popular comic book franchise of the same name make its progression to the world of gaming. The story predates the events of the comics by three years so those unfamiliar with the canon can rest easy that no crucial plot details will be needed. Blade Kitten follows the adventures of bounty hunter Kit Ballard whom, as her name suggests, is half-human and half-cat.
Comic book based video games are nothing new and if it’s innovation you seek then you’d best keep on moving as this game is firmly entrenched in the established cliché ridden beat ‘em up genre. However being a ‘glass half full’ fellow I can appreciate this is an opportunity for old school hijinks rather than a decision born out of lazy development decisions or lack of ingenuity. Blade Kitten is a side scrolling episodic beat ‘em up and like seemingly every new XBLA/ PS Network release it’s in eye-popping 2.5D, something we’ll address later. Despite initial misgivings that the genre would derail any meaningful pleasure the opening level manages to sufficiently impress; the controls are tight, responsive and well suited the agility of the Kit, whilst the visuals are so bright and sugary sweet your eyes will most likely require a shot of insulin after playing.
In an already over-saturated marketplace it’s encouraging to see something stand out as much as Blade Kitten manages to do. On the surface everything seems so perfect, the visuals are vibrant and impressively stylised, initially the controls seem perfect. Players move Kit using the left analogue stick, pressing one of the face buttons to jump and the shoulder buttons to sprint. Also at Kit’s disposal is a short range melee attack and a longer range boomerang attack. There can be no complaints about the initial forays into the mechanics of the game because it does all it needs to do. Sadly however the experience of playing the entire game is the very definition of a polarising one.
One area which the game should really be questioned about is the 2.5D presentation style. Kit can seemingly move in every direction in fact the agility and freedom afforded to her is a major selling point of the gameplay but the background of the game remains inaccessible. One cannot move between planes instead the 2.5D is dedicated solely to background peripherals and setting the scene. This is a pleasant if altogether pointless addition to the game and a real missed opportunity to improve the game.
Each level is designed with exploration in mind; in fact it seems to be at the forefront of the designer’s thoughts in many areas of the game. Kit’s move set allows her to leap and bound around landscapes with ease, but the coup de grace of her physical talents is her ability to climb the walls and ceiling. You’ll spend many a moment Linda Blair-ing round the ceiling preparing to tackle unsuspecting grunts.
The initial excitement with which one tends to consider the controls is soon replaced by a sense of frustration. Upon beginning the game players will notice the lack of any choice of difficulty which is a risky strategy especially if the game in question adopts an inconsistent stance in this area. Enemies can normally be attacked using the short range attacks but the amount of hits required is never indicated so players simply button bash their way through the levels and this soon becomes a very unwelcome motif of the game.
A quick hypothetical for you gentle reader; we’ve reached the 5 minute mark and you’re enjoying the dashing and jumping elements, indeed the ease to which you accustomed yourself to Kit’s movements is very satisfying. Instinctively the analogue stick is pressed firmly to the right as Kit sprints across the landscape, then just to the right side of the screen your first grunt appears. Those instincts kick in and you leap flailing the attack button like a man possessed, he’s mincemeat, cat nip, kitty litter but ‘block’. A momentary setback, you get close and mash the melee button, Kit responds whipping her blade at the grunt ‘block’ ‘block’ ‘BLOCK’. You give a scream and the controller hits a hard surface.
This unnecessarily long and graphic problem depicted typifies the inconsistency of the game’s difficulty; which is something that dilutes all enjoyment of the abilities given to Kit and make it terribly difficult to plan or coordinate efficient attacks. Most of the time players will simply mash the two attack buttons in the hope to knocking an enemy out. Which after several levels of similar grunts and identical attack patterns becomes incomprehensibly dull.
In terms of aesthetics the game does at least have high aims with developers Krome Studios leaning heavily on the source material for inspiration. The outcome of this focus is an anime, cell-shaded mix which is surprisingly enjoyable to look at. In fact the visuals are a real draw for players and the vibrancy and interesting character animations feel like they could never really lose their charm. At least that’s how I felt after two or three levels but as the game progresses players will find that the whilst the prettiness of the levels never truly diminishes they fail to mask the repetitive nature of the level structures themselves.
- The presentation is vibrant and suits the source material
- Movement and agility of the protagonist means you’ll spend a lot of time bouncing from floor to ceiling which is tremendously fun
- If you’re a fan of the series you’ll revel in the accuracy of the setting and authenticity of the cut scenes
- Uninspired, dull, repetitive level designs
- Inconsistent difficulty and gameplay mechanics
- Much of the story is firmly aimed at the core fan base, newcomers will wonder why they should care
Episodic games of the online marketplaces are generally short and sweet, offering bursts of exciting gameplay and visuals to gamers in short, sharp bursts. Whilst the games expectations of these games are obviously set lower than their retail cousins there does still need to be some form of consistency as they progress. This is the heart of the problem, the forgettable nature of the level designs and the lack of any real additions to the combat system mean players will grow tired of proceedings sooner rather than later.