Anyone who knows my gaming habits knows that I’m a huge of the small developer Treasure. Heck, the first game I ever bought with my own money was Gunstar Heroes for the Genesis. Ever since then, every time I hear a new Treasure game is coming out I’m ecstatic. Bleach: The Blade of Fate was no different. Once upon a time, this game was heavily imported by gamers wanting both a 2D fighter and a Treasure fix. I, too, wanted to import the title, but I knew it was coming over due to the advent of the localized anime. Now the game is finally stateside and it’s well worth the wait.
Unlike most licensed tie-ins (coughcoughWiiBleachcough), Bleach for the DS is a fantastic game. It has all of the features you can expect from a modern 2D fighter: a power bar that builds up from being hit/hitting/blocking, a large selection of playable characters (23 to be exact), and special moves. The game even has double-tap dashing which gives it a great Guilty Gear feel to it.
What’s special about this game, though, is its playability. Every move is quick and frantic like any modern arcade fighter, yet it’s only on a portable system. When I first played the game, I was amazed with how well the DS could handle everything that was going on onscreen. The game can have up to four players competing against each other at once (a rarity in the genre), has plane switching (where the characters can move between two 2D planes of movement) much like most of the entries in SNK’s Fatal Fury franchise, and handles scaling (zooming in and out of the playing field) all at once quite gracefully. Lag is almost nonexistent and all of the moves flow really well together. Of course, if you are using the Multiplayer Single Card feature or Nintendo’s Wi-Fi service, you get the occasional lag here and there, not that you’d use either features if you were seriously playing someone. However, I was never too annoyed simply because of how much fun the game is. 1-on-1 matches are fast, frantic, and competition worthy. The 3 or more player brawls, while they are crazy and tough to know what is going on with specials coming from more than one direction, are simply a blast. You can play this game for hours with friends and not get bored.
Bleach also has a move set that is tailored to the DS. If you look up your character’s move set, you’ll notice that none of the actions require you hit any diagonal directions on the gamepad. That means that the player performs the corner-circle made famous by Ryu and Ken’s Hadouken simply by pressing down then right or left. First of all, Treasure was very smart to construct the move set this way. Whether you own a DS Lite or Phat (as I do), most gamers generally agree that the diagonals are tough to hit on the system. Eliminating the extra command allows for easier execution of the moves by the player on the DS and it makes the whole experience much less frustrating. The result is a portable 2D fighter that hasn’t controlled this well since the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s essential SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium.
Other than the multiplayer features, Bleach also has a few distinct additions that allow the title to stand out among the other great 2D fighters. You can use status effect cards via the touch screen. Also accessible via the touch screen on another menu is the complete list of your characters special moves that can also be performed via touch screen. Yes, this feature is much like the loathed Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO. These two features are debatable in terms of whether they make the game better or not. The card system can add another strategic element to the game as you can construct your deck from cards that you unlock in the Story Mode (more on that later). Technically, you could say that you could construct your deck well enough to counteract the effects of someone else’s, but it adds a random element to the fights that would make most fighting game enthusiasts cringe. Then again, is a random element that bad every once in a while (I do enjoy items in Super Smash Bros.) The second feature is more debatable in the fact that it makes the game more accessible. Accessibility is one of my favorite subjects to talk about in multiplayer games if you couldn’t tell from my reviews because it’s probably the most important factor for attracting players that are new to the game and genre. Therefore, the touch-screen special moves are great for beginners but they definitely have to be banned in highly competitive play when accuracy is the deciding factor.
Another feature I’m not too keen on is the Story Mode. I find it very repetitive in terms of the fact that you fight the same characters over and over again, sometimes twice in a row with the same conditions and stage. I also could care less about the derivative story, but I guess the long-time fans of the anime/manga/games/toys/toilet paper would like it potentially. It’s a shame, too, because I enjoy the anime but these side-stories usually do nothing for me because they reveal nothing about the development of the characters. I’ll stick to the Arcade Mode personally.
Bleach: The Blade of Fate is an amazing 2D fighter and probably one of the best ever. It lives up to the Treasure name. It has a couple of flaws but gamers will remember the game and it’s sequel (it’s coming over probably sometime this year as it’s already out in Japan) for years to come as one of the most fun, graphically impressive, and playable 2D fighter games portable or otherwise.