Originally released on the Nintendo Switch, Wulverblade is a side-scrolling beat-em-up coming soon to the PS4 (which is what I’m playing on), Xbox One, and PC. Of course, that somewhat dated genre name doesn’t quite describe what it plays like since you’re armed with a bladed weapon that you use to cut a bunch of people up into little pieces, but it’s a decent starting point. I’m going to level with you—I’ve had horrible luck lately as far as my game choices have been concerned, so when I checked out some Wulverblade gameplay on a whim, I was totally on board once I saw how much violence there was. That might seem like a shallow reason to be drawn to it, but sometimes games try to be so artsy and clever that something revolving around hacking people’s heads off with a sword feels like a vacation.
Character select and the controls
There are three characters who fall into the typical beat-em-up roles. You have the balanced default character, the speedy-but-weak female character, and finally, the slow character who has stronger attacks than the other two. I decided to go with the default guy for now because that’s usually the beginner-friendly option.
These are the PS4 controls, though there’s also a backside view that covers how L2 causes you to run and R2 allows you to call in a pack of wolves once per level.
The controls take a little getting used to
The video above is of the first stage, and it’s obvious that I have no idea what I’m doing. Part of that comes down to how the early tutorial screens are presented; having the controller diagram automatically alternate between the front and back view makes it hard to get a grasp on what does what, and showing the button for a heavy attack when you’re not able to perform one initially looks like a bug. It wasn’t until later that I learned that heavy attacks can only be performed once you’ve picked up one of the rare weapons that’s grabbed with the triangle button. Mostly, though, my sloppy play can be attributed to the clumsiness of learning a new game.
One of my early frustrations was that it’s possible to run, but only to the side. Moving up and down is always the same speed, and this makes it difficult to get away from the boss of this level when he starts doing quick attacks. I still almost managed to beat him, but ended up losing the last of my three lives and having to restart from the last checkpoint. Since I’m playing on the “standard” mode that has infinite continues, Wulverblade can be played like an arcade beat-em-up where you have endless quarters (always a great inclusion in games like this). Anyway, I quickly learned that moving around isn’t always the best option; parrying attacks by blocking right before they land stuns enemies and lets you get a few free blows in.
The second and third stages went much smoother
I wasn’t comfortable moving on to the second stage before becoming somewhat comfortable with the mechanics, and the map screen allows you to replay stages, so I went through the first stage again as practice. It still wasn’t what I’d call pretty, but it was good enough practice for the next two stages to be much less embarrassing.
Getting a handle on blocking/parrying and rolling to manage crowds is incredibly useful, and when I killed an enemy by throwing a different enemy’s head at him, I knew that I was falling in love with Wulverblade. Even better, I had picked up an ax to use as a heavy attack while replaying the first stage, so my combos were able to become more elaborate and entertaining. Hitting an enemy in the air after knocking them back is just weirdly satisfying. And picking up new secondary weapons sometimes unlocks a bit of lore you can open up and start reading about (though I quickly exited out after making screenshots of the various lore stuff to avoid extended periods of staring at a screen slowing down the pace of the videos).
The third stage is the introduction of shielded Roman enemies who sometimes block and require slightly different tactics. There are also one or two nagging problems that started to become apparent here. For one, this is one of those Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom situations where the button for attacking and the button for picking things up is the same, leading to awkward moments where you’ll pick up something instead of attacking. There’s also a problem with accidental grabbing, since your attacks then only hit one person until you throw the grabbed enemy, which messes with the flow of things. Typical beat-em-up problems, really. One that seem unique to Wulverblade, however, is that enemies will sometimes have an exclamation point over their heads to indicate that they’re about to attack. Not only does it seem to be impossible to tell whether they’re about to do a blockable or unblockable attack (which you can see several times in the third stage boss fight), but there are distracting foreground elements that make it difficult to see these cues in time to react appropriately. You can see that at 5:14 in the video above. I’ve even been hit by off-screen enemies, which has taught me to try avoiding screen edges.
The fourth stage boss isn’t my favorite
I didn’t record the entirety of the fourth stage because embedding too many full stages starts to feel like the kind of thing that’d diminish a potential player’s experience, but it had some great fights in it. One thing I didn’t like was a point where you’re stuck in a stone circle fighting a bunch of people. The normal enemies were fine, but an unusually tough enemy shows up at the end, and he has an irritating unblockable attack. He also has a bunch of quick attacks that can be blocked, and the slow up/down movement speed makes it difficult to get away if you realize that he’s about to do the unblockable one. That’s a minor qualm, though.
My bigger complaint is that the boss fight simply wasn’t fun. Maybe it’s because I don’t yet have a grasp on what the yellow circles mean, but fighting a tower while a bunch of enemies show up to pester you isn’t really a fun experience. The part where enemies drop oil is even worse, too, because the 2D art doesn’t really give you a great sense of perspective, and it’s difficult to see the cues before the oil lands. Fighting a lot of enemies in a small space tends to also highlight the other problems, and you can see me die at 4:03 after unexpectedly grabbing an enemy. I was trying to use my sword to cancel the enemy archer’s attack and keep the group busy, but latched onto the nearest person and got hit with an arrow instead.
The short videos are pretty interesting
As you play, you’ll unlock videos that can be accessed from the map screen, and these talk about areas that are either featured in Wulverblade or that had an influence on the developers. It’s a lot like how Never Alone included a bunch of videos that you could take a break from the game to watch. I’ve always wondered why more developers don’t include something like this; it’s always interesting to see the things that inspired the end product without having to go track down interviews.
Wulverblade is a lot of fun right now
Despite a few hiccups, I’m having a lot of fun with Wulverblade and look forward to playing through the rest of the stages. If it continues being as entertaining as it’s been up to this point, then I’ll probably try playing as the other characters, too.