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BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II

For: PSP   Also on: 3DS
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The Lone Warrior

Product: BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II | Developer: Arc System Works | Format: PSP | Genre: Fighting | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II PSP, thumbnail 1
When the PSP launched in 2004, it soon became home to some superb ports of 2D fighters that started their lives in the arcades.

Hardware that could fit in your pocket was now so powerful that pushing around chunky sprites and displaying frames and frames of smooth animation was a doddle, hence Capcom's well-received releases of Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower and the sublime Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX.

Things appear to have come full circle for Sony's first portable as it approaches the end of its life, though this time it's Arc Systems Works that has taken up the mantle for fighting fans, with latest release BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II.

Fighting games have changed since 2004, and a superb port of a no-frills two-dimensional brawler just isn't going to cut it in 2011's surprisingly crowded marketplace. Perhaps this is why the PQube-published Continuum Shift II places its emphasis on the single-player experience - usually the weakest area of any versus fighter.

Along with the usual Arcade mode setup, a well-populated fight card of other options is on hand. Score Attack has you battling opponents for scores; Challenge gives a set of parameters to accomplish by character; and Abyss is a Survival mode of sorts.

Then there's Legion 1.5, which combines survival and team-based rules with light strategy by adding a meta-game element of navigating around a map of connected scraps.

Starting with a single character, accruing more by defeating enemies and losing each warrior that falls in battle, it's a useful mode for those wanting to improve their game, as it forces you to learn each character's move-set.

Fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once...

How might one learn these capabilities? In the robust Training option, of course.

Where many titles are happy to give you the equivalent of a dummy to practise on, BlazBlue actively teaches you how to play it, from blocking to the correct way to perform a quarter circle to stringing together combos and beyond.

Finish this section of the game and you'll have detailed knowledge of the inner workings of Continuum Shift II, and you'll more than likely be a far more competent 2D fighter player in general. This is exactly what fighting games need more of - comprehensive explanations of how to become better, in an interactive environment.

The final single-player component is to be found in the Story mode, which explores the off-the-wall side-plots of the Arcade mode's narrative. It's well told and at times genuinely funny.

Multiplayer is somewhat limited - just ad-hoc options of PSP versus PSP. Without a group of local friends to play this with, there's always a nagging feeling that you might be improving skills that no one will see, but you can always pipe the handheld through a PlayStation 3, set up a lobby, and cross your fingers.

A lack of true online play is not the only technical shortcoming, though. Small irritations start to show after extended play.

The first is that load times are a fraction too long, and with no data install option there's no way to shorten them.

There's no loading between rounds, but there is between matches. Dumping data from UMD to a memory stick would have circumvented much of this, and it's really disappointing that such a common feature in other games isn't included here.

Another problem is the design of the controls. The D-pad on a PSP is fine for fighters, but it lacks the precision of a NeoGeo Pocket Color, a dedicated fight pad, or – better yet – an arcade stick. It takes a lot of practice to get to the top tier, which again raises the question whether it's worth bothering, since nobody else is competing at those higher levels on PSP.

Quick recovery from a Flash Knockdown

You might have noticed that the issue of how the game plays hasn't been covered yet. That's because gameplay is the least exciting aspect of this release.

Understandably, it's much like its predecessor, which was in turn much like Guilty Gear, Arc System Works's previous fighter. BlazBlue is a predominantly weapon-based affair that prioritises chaining moves together into double-digit combos, following a typical pattern of lighter to heavier strikes.

Character movement feels very deliberate and instant - going from standing still to dashing straight across the screen is more common than walking towards an opponent. Positional play and understanding your avatar's exact reach can also reap rewards - just landing an unexpected hit can lead to further moves being added to the sequence.

Specials look suitably gorgeous and impactful, though they're more than just eye candy. Every ability has the potential to play a role in your assaults, meaning that good players will treat encounters as improvised spatial puzzles, drawing enemies into committed-to-memory slashes and strikes stringed together through muscle memory.

There are also plenty of defensive options, including risky counters that can reverse more overly aggressive strategies.

A lot of the fighting game tropes relating to avatar stereotypes are here, too: the all-rounder that the character select option defaults to; the nimble but weak female; the hulking throw specialist. Yet BlazBlue borrows from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Street Fighter III too, with more than its fair share of oddballs.

Of particular note are the globby, mentally damaged shape shifter Arakune that expands, retracts, and stretches his body to keep players on their toes, as well as Carl Clover and his robotic 'sister', who act as separate entities in battles, ganging up on their soon-to-be-victims.

We're at the tail end of a handheld that promised so much in terms of storage and connectivity to the net, while delivering so little. Ultimately, it's this that hurts BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II.

It's lacking that all-important social element that one-on-one fighters desperately need to keep an audience's attention. It's a superb purchase for those looking to try and get into the genre, but the lack of online functionality, the often maddening delays between bouts of action, and some imperfect controls dampen its appeal in the long run.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II
Reviewer photo
Peter Willington | 23 November 2011
Stylish battles and profoundly smart single-player content make BlazBlue a solid fighting experience, though people wanting to show off their skills may be served better elsewhere
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