Wulverblade Review (Xbox One) A trip back in time to the beat em ups of yesteryear

Initial Release: 31 January 2018

“Wulverblade doesn’t match the genre topping experience that is Scott Pilgrim, but its different take on bringing history to the beat em up genre is one that should be experienced for the price of admission. “

Beat em’ ups on mainstream consoles have seen a severe decline over the past few years. With the exception of Scott Pilgrim VS The World, the genre has severely been lacking in success stories (last year’s Double Dragon 4 being the perfect example of that). But when done right and with lots of care a side scrolling beat em’ up can really stand out from the crowd, even with gameplay that is 30+ years old. Wulverblade is the latest attempt to bring back the gameplay of arcade games gone by, taking you to the glorious days of Golden Axe and Double Dragon. Wulverblade understands what made the beat em’ ups of yesteryear work and attempts to change things up by adding a heavy dose of history to the mix.

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Wulverblade is a brutally hard game which sees you play as a Viking warrior in the fight for the south of Britannia. As this Viking you’ll be fighting Romans, Britons and a whole host of different creatures/armies over the course of the game’s 8 levels. Wulverblade puts story at its forefront more so than most beat em’ ups I’ve played, there are consistent cut-scenes which take advantage of the excellent art style on show and there are a metric ton of collectables which further the lore of the world. The game takes its historic story surprisingly seriously but it’s not afraid to lean into lore that makes Viking history so interesting and different from other time periods. While one minute you’re reading an interesting collectable on Stone Henge the next you’re going into a blood rage and killing assassins, yet somehow neither of those severely different experiences feel out of place thanks to great world building. Without going into spoilers the story does remain interesting throughout but there were times that I felt conversations and cut scenes went on too long, something that is especially noticeable when you’ve played through the game multiple times (Thankfully almost all of them are skip-able). When you get bored of the story mode though there are plenty of other features to keep you playing long after you think you’ve exhausted the game. There’s a horde-like mode called “Arena” and a score based “Arcade mode” which limits your life counter and brings in a score counter similar to the games it’s trying so hard to replicate. The Arcade mode is the best of the two, having learned the game almost off by heart by playing through it three times the score based mode gave me a way to exercise my skill and give me what I felt was one final challenge to overcome. With a roughly 3 hour main campaign (which on its own holds a lot of replay possibility), and two other satisfying modes your getting a lot of value out of an already cheap game.
As is the case with most side-scrolling beat em’ ups Wulverblade gives you the option to play with multiple characters all with varying traits. There’s the heavy tank character, Brennus, the swift Guinevere and the main all-round hero Cardoc. Surprisingly, unlike most beat em ups I’ve played they all do play noticeably different. Cardoc allows for a much faster paced combo-heavy gameplay, Guineveres speed allows you to run around enemies attacking them from behind and Brennus is a guns blazing all out damage sponge. So playing through the game with each character is a varied enough experience to still make the game enjoyable on a third play-through. What I should say though is that the game is at its best when its fast paced, while playing as all 3 characters is a distinct experience. Playing as the slow Brennus sometimes felt clunky and irritating, making it easily the least enjoyable of the three playthroughs I had. The game does support co-op which helps leverage the random difficultly spikes the game throws upon you, but for some reason the co-op is only two players. Which is a shame because I imagine having 3 players on the screen at once would lead to some truly chaotic gameplay. Maybe it’s something that could be added in the future but it seems like a wasted opportunity considering the game has 3 varied characters it could use for co-op.

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The controls are where Wulverblade really starts to slip up. Nearly all attacks reside on one button (With the exception of a heavy attack which is only accessible when you pick up certain weapons). There’s only a handful of moves you can use with a one-button attack and as such after a couple of levels gameplay starts to get very repetitive. Again, this is even more obvious when your playing as the tank Brennus, his restricted movement means you are heavily attack focused and it amplifies the lack of variation as you rinse and repeat the same attacks. Each character does have a special Rage mode ability which turns them invincible and lets them unleash a horde of attacks on the unsuspecting enemies at hand but its still just using the one attack button and normally only serves as a last resort in huge scale battles. It doesn’t help that some attacks can easily be exploited, there was an arena fight in the 4th chapter which was incredibly difficult until I realised I could just ground slam anytime anyone even came close to me. I found myself forcing myself to mix up attacks just so I wasn’t getting bored from the lack of cooldown some attacks have. That doesn’t stop the game from really challenging you at some moments though, the bosses in particular took me multiple attempts to conquer even on lower difficulty settings. Like I said said earlier this game can be brutally hard at time so if your not ready to be punished for even the slightest mistake then this probably isn’t the game for you.
Some outlets have described this as the Dark Souls of beat em’ ups (Although any game that is even remotely difficult is now described as the Dark Souls of something) I feel that’s an unfair comparison. Wulverblade isn’t about learning patterns of enemy attacks, it’s about getting through seemingly endless hordes of enemies with different attacks, it favours a more bullet-hell style gameplay than it does Dark Souls. So if your looking for a game which requires investing time to learn how to beat a boss this isn’t for you.

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I also mentioned earlier that the cutscenes are all beautifully animated and to match that the gameplay is as well. Whether your fighting through a blood-soaked field or a torch lit cave it’s a consistently great looking game. But while those graphics are beautiful to look at it does cause some confusion as to where you can actually move on the level. There was more than handful of occasions where I was attempting to move on to the next area or use cover and because I wasn’t in the pixel perfect spot for it to register I either couldn’t move or I got hit by an attack I should have blocked. It’s not a huge problem with the game and its one that could be fixed with a simple patch adjusting detection range but its noticeable enough to cause a few irritants. While i’m mentioning minor irritants the game does have some excessively long loading times, for a game that’s not got a lot going on and has relatively short snappy levels i’m not sure why the loading times are this long. It can certainly break up the gameplay when your really getting invested in a session.
Wulverblade doesn’t match the genre topping experience that is Scott Pilgrim, but its different take on bringing history to the beat em’ up genre is one that should be experienced for the price of admission. The beat em’ up genre has become a spare one in recent years so if your looking for a competent and addictive game that will absorb hours of your time then Wulverblade may be right up your street.

 

Verdict – 6 Out Of 10

We were provided a copy of the game for review purposes by the publisher

Wulverblade is also available for PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch

Dawson Roberts

Written by: Dawson Roberts

Self-taught critic who loves nothing more than a good argument over a controversial topic. Whether it is games, films or music Dawson can't help but love a good opinion piece. Also obsessed with anything at all related to the film LA LA Land...

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