When my brother and I were young we would run down to the local arcade machines to spend all of our gold coins on Double Dragon. Sometimes we would get further ahead, or sometimes an overlooked baddie would take us out but either way we kept playing. The rather simplistic arcade brawler was exceptional fun when playing with someone, and now – thanks to the Nintendo Switch and the new title Wulverblade – we have an arcade brawler on the go. I take the Switch into another room, or another house or park bench, snap off the controllers and we are transported to great beat-em-up (or in this case hack and slash-em-up) action at any time. Once again, I’m hooked.
Developed by the team Fully Illustrated, Wulverblade looks like a flash animation, but don’t let the look persuade you into thinking this is some Saturday morning cartoon. The bright and vibrant style fades away pretty quickly as visceral and bloody fights occur. Characters scream in agony and a score meter on the bottom of your screen relishes your latest ‘MURDER’ combo. A little boy could only hope for after school cartoons like this!
Playing as three different and enjoyable characters (Carradoc, Brennus and Guinevere) the player leads an assault for Brittania to fight off the Romans encroaching on their land in 120AD. That concept would work fine as a story by itself, travelling across the land looking to harm those who came to harm you. But it’s not just a backdrop or excuse for action, the team at Fully Illustrated – led by Michael Heald – has researched this period of history with a fine tooth comb and has littered the game with fantastic little details. The game is literally bursting with historical documents, documentary footage of the areas it’s based on and tonnes of time specific weapons. It’s like a blood soaked adult episode of Horrible Histories and it kept me truly engaged with not just my personal journey but in researching where I was and why as I traveled along the beautiful hub map. However, the game is keen to point out that this research is not completed by scholars of the field – so treat it as a starting point to the subject.
It’s important to state the nostalgia I had when playing this game, because it is one of the game’s strongest assets, and it works pretty well. A button to quick attack, one to heavy attack, one to block and one to jump. Simple stuff, but it’s when you are surrounded by enemies and resorting to picking up severed limbs, rolling out of harm’s way, throwing the arms of your vanquished foe to start a flurry of quick attacks that are capped off by your enemy flying in the air only for your co-op buddy to juggle him to defeat that the game shows it’s efficiency in combat. While the jumping and the blocking were sometimes a little janky, and unresponsive in the midst of some combos, it never left me raging AT the game. Battles are tense and always one upping themselves on the way to the game’s completion, but they never feel unfair. I kept playing because I wanted to see what they threw at me and my co-op partner.
The game has a few different campaign modes, the more obvious ones are the story itself or the option to play it Arcade style with three lives and you’re out cruelty. However, I found great enjoyment in the Arena mode, a place where you could select your battle arena that looks at areas from the campaign as you fight off enemies in waves. In Co-op I enjoyed training my skills in this arena which I then took to the more difficult later levels of the main campaign.
However, as fun as the action is, and as much as the history of the game kept me going way further than just hack and slashing til the end, I don’t believe this game has single player experience in mind. I would barely scrape through a level in one player as I started off, but in Co-op I found levels a breeze. It seemed like the balance was off in single player, throwing you the same amount of enemies as if you had a partner. This is probably not the case – but it’s what I felt. Wherever possible the game should be played with someone sitting by your side (no online functionality available) to truly enjoy the Roman slaying experience.
Wulverblade is a strong addition to an already incredible first year of the Nintendo Switch. An old school (but with modern elements for those inclined) arcade beat-em-up on the go is a welcome addition I didn’t know I needed. Don’t let the cartoon graphics throw you off, this game had me and my co-op partners howling in equal disgust and delight. A strong debut from the team at Fully Illustrated and a great night’s entertainment for old arcade fans.
Wulverblade is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop.