There are some things that I really don’t like about Wulverblade. The foreground objects blocking prompts and enemies are perhaps the worst I can recall, the controls aren’t set up quite as comfortably as they could be, and sometimes you get hit by things that aren’t anywhere near you (especially toward the end when you’re dealing with ballistae that come in from an angle). But you know what? I’m still having fun with it. The music is fantastic, for one thing. The behind-the-scenes stuff is legitimately interesting, too, and while the difficulty on normal can be incredibly punishing and see you stun-locked as half of your life bar suddenly disappears, being able to restart from the last checkpoint largely alleviates such frustrations.
Let’s talk about the controls
For the most part, the controls are decent, but there are definitely moments where decent doesn’t cut it. One major problem I have is that the attack button and block button are always mapped to opposite sides no matter which control configuration you use, so you can’t bring up your shield without moving your thumb off of the attack button. This slows things down ever so slightly, which becomes an issue since attack prompts don’t give you much time to block/parry. My other problem with the controls is that rolling requires double-tapping the desired roll direction while your shield is up, which, again, slows things down so that you often can’t react in time.
Personally, I’d swap the jump and block buttons on the default layout (so jump is circle, normal attack is square, and block is X) and allow rolling with a single tap while the shield is up. That would go a long ways toward making it more comfortable to react to things. Also, I’d love it if you could cancel out of attack animations to block at any time, because sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a combo and get hit despite holding circle because of how long it takes for the animation to finish.
[Update: I just realized that holding L2 allows you to roll with a single tap. It’s a little awkward adding that extra input into the mix, but it works well enough that I just made it through all of chapter 7 without losing a single life. Not too shabby.]
Chapter 5 is infuriating
The entirety of chapter 5 and the stage portion of chapter 6 were low points in my opinion, though pretty much everything from chapter 6’s boss fight to the end of chapter 8 (which is the last stage) is good enough to make up for this. Still, there are a few things I want to specifically call out. First, this backlit effect isn’t a good idea. Limiting visibility may look dramatic and striking, but it also makes it unnecessarily difficult to see what’s happening. Chapter 6’s stage also suffers from needless visibility issues, and all of this really comes down to a single thing: getting hit because an attack cue or pickup cue was obscured by a foreground element or visual effect is more of a con than including those additional elements to make things more visually interesting is a pro. These are things that you should be able to toggle off because of how much of a problem they can become in certain areas.
The boss of chapter 5 is on a whole other level as far as badness is concerned, though. She’s a huge damage sponge, foreground elements can obscure incoming arrow prompts (1:41) and landing attack spots (2:29), and she gets two helper enemies when you’re on her final life bar who exist solely to pester and distract you. A glimpse into the kind of thing that can become maddening: I get stuck in an animation at 3:35, which allows her to pull back a bunch of arrows and hit me with them despite my attempts to block. Then her helper hits me from behind the second I get up, giving her enough time to hit me with an unblockable arrow shot. That’s several seconds of having no control while enemies take out half of my life bar.
The TL;DR version is that cheap shots are bad
Realistically, I probably could have just posted this one clip and saved myself the trouble of writing several hundred words of elaborate complaining. Shrug.
Okay, on to the positivity
When I started up the game again today, I freaked out a little because it looked like nothing had been saved. It turns out that you can select your mode, difficulty, and character every time you start up the game and keep all of your progress. Something I noticed in the process was that all cutscenes revolve around the default guy, so playing as him first is definitely recommended to feel like you have a stake in what’s happening. Anyway, since you can freely change these things, I decided to go through the final level with the two other characters rather than playing through the entire game again. Playing as the female character was probably the most comfortable because of her great movement, with her even being able to hop up and down (by hitting R2 and up/down) to quickly move in those directions. Her weaker attacks aren’t even a problem since her fast attack speed allows her to juggle enemies in the air. The slow guy, conversely, was the character I found the hardest to use. He’s a big target, and his movement is slow enough that he eats a lot of hits.
Okay, I lied; there’s one more negative that I want to bring up. Sometimes enemies hit you and knock your strong attack weapon away from you, and that seems senseless. These weapons already break over time, so also being able to have them knocked away (thus suddenly losing your ability to perform strong attacks) feels like an unnecessary punishment. Like the game in general, though, chapters 7 and 8 are incredibly entertaining despite rough edges like this. Difficult, but entertaining. Especially chapter 7; there are a whole lot of enemies you have to beat, and it starts to feel like a struggle to even reach a checkpoint without losing all three of your lives.
The end is glorious
I’m not going to post the entire sequence, but I do want to show off a small taste of what awaits in the final level. First, the video covers the female character’s ability to hop up and down. The second clip is of her Wulver form, and this is a form you play through the second half of chapter 8 as. It’s a lot of fun for a lot of reasons. For one, your increased strength allows you to cut through huge numbers of enemies with relative ease. You’re also relying on your claws rather than weapons during this section, which means that you have an unbreakable strong attack that can’t be knocked away from you. This is really where Wulverblade lives up to its potential.