By Anthony L. Cuaycong
THERE was a time when fighting games were little more than button-mashing exercises. Perhaps the relative lack of complexity was due to the genre being in its infancy stage. Perhaps it was borne of the publishers’ intent to be as inclusive as possible. In any case, gamers still found them irresistible for the most part, if for no other reason than because they afforded the opportunity for instant gratification. In comparison to, say, sports titles, fights involved short matches and rematches. Bragging rights were passed on quickly and often, and the speed with which they were earned, lost, regained, and desired anew served only to ramp up the intensity of the competition.
That said, it was inevitable for developers to build on their products, and the sheer number of alternatives vying for gamers’ time and money led to continuous improvement. These days, fighting games are much more complex, and with rapid advances in technology have come challenges from practically anywhere in the globe. Those standing in the way of ultimate success are no longer in the same room, and, in all probability, not even in the same country. Which is why the most serious gamers invest no small measure of effort in mastering the intricacies of a given title, taking pains to get to know their character(s) as best they can and thereby mastering the pace, speed, combinations, and strategies required to prevail.
Needless to say, the commanding level of commitment is secured only by the best fighting games. And, in this regard, it’s no wonder that few titles boasting of diverse sets of characters with compelling story lines, of engaging game play that requires hours upon hours to navigate, and of competitive balance have built a cachet of goodwill. For Arc System Works, BlazBlue is thankfully such a title, in the last decade claiming a loyal following that expects each subsequent release in the franchise to be bigger and better.
In this regard, Nintendo Switch owners are fortunate to get an outstanding port of BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. Visually and aurally, it’s a feast for the senses. The two-dimensional sprites retain their familiar flair, propped up by intricate backgrounds that convey spatial depth. At the same time, the anime-inspired sound track succeeds in highlighting the action, with the option to choose between English and Japanese language tracks a decided plus. Summarily, the release for the hybrid console holds its own vis-a-vis those for the PlayStation 4 and the PC in terms of presentation.
Given BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle’s pedigree, it is, not surprisingly, deep and engrossing. It isn’t just that 20 characters are available at the outset; it’s that they include venerable names from the Persona, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY lines. Arc System Works has pulled out all the stops, leveraging its productive relationships with Atlus, French Bread, and Rooster Teeth to secure appropriate rights on the use of such notables as Yu Narukami, Yosuke Hanamura, Hyde Kido, Linne, Ruby Rose, and Weiss Schnee. Significantly, another 20 are available as downloadable content, with more planned, giving substance to its positioning as a fan-friendly crossover fighter.
Gameplay-wise, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle performs admirably on the Switch. Whether docked or on the go, controls are tight, and combos can be executed with relative ease; the Joy-Cons do the job well, but the Pro Controller is especially responsive and, absent a third-party arcade stick, should be the default choice in competition. Certainly, it helps that gamers need only concentrate presses on the A, B, C, D, and P buttons, with tag-ins made between teammates, properties utilized, and attacks done via the right sequences. In this regard, the capacity to map two-button presses serves gamers well, allowing for the buildup of in-game gauges and the subsequent execution of special moves unique to character choices. Be forewarned, though: Astral Heat finishes are difficult to pull off given their conditional hurdles.
Significantly, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle offers a satisfying “Episode Mode” that has gamers run through just about the whole gamut of character combinations, in the process enabling them to settle into one that suits their playing style. And there is substantial exposition between fights, a boon for those deep into character development. On the flip side, the omission of any quick-play, arcade-type mode will nag at those who prefer to go straight to the meat of the game.
All the same, the comfort level will eventually be such that progression to rewarding multiplayer challenges is assured. And this is where BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle truly shines. Whether across the couch from a friend or across continents against a total stranger, it delivers a thoroughly stunning experience. Apart from character introductions, online lag is virtually nonexistent, and at no time does it give the impression of uneven competition; regardless of the choices made, gamers know they’re part of fair fights, with the outcome dependent on the right mix of skill and good fortune.
In the final analysis, BlazBlue is a superb offering from Arc System Works, providing a dream lineup of 20 popular characters off the rack (and at least 20 more behind a paywall) through spectacularly polished game play. As a gift slated to keep on giving, it’s the best fighting game on the Switch by far. At $49.99, it’s filled to the brim and a decided bargain for casual fans and hard core gamers alike.