I can't even begin to tell you how hyped I was for Bleach: Shattered Blade upon hearing that it was coming to the US. I'm a huge Bleach fan (though I don't keep up with the anime anymore, just the manga), and I loved the Bleach DS games. Week after agonizing week went by, and my anticipation grew. I kept up with any and all news about the game. Then came the announcement that it will be uncut in the US. Everything from the Japanese version intact. Which only served to make me even more excited for it. And then FINALLY, after months of waiting, I finally get my hands on the game. 32 characters, gameplay that centers around using the Wii Remote as your Zanpaku-to, an original character created by Kubo Tite just for the game…What more could I want?
As it turns out, plenty. Upon starting the game, you're greeted with a host of gameplay modes. Episode mode, Arcade mode, Versus mode, Training mode, Options, Gallery, and Urahara Shop. Episode mode is where you'll play through the game's story, written especially for the game by Kubo Tite himself. Unfortunately, the story seems pretty tacked-on and generic. It really seems like something that'd be filler material in the anime, or perhaps an OVA. Arcade mode is your standard "pick a character and fight a set number of battles" mode. Nothing new here. Versus mode allows you to fight either a second player or the computer in a single match. You can also do a COM vs COM match. Training mode is pretty self explanatory. Urahara Shop is where you'll use the money you earn through Arcade/Episode mode to buy unlockables. Artwork, alternate costumes, character voice data, and the like. One of the biggest problems that Bleach: Shattered Blade has is the lack of modes. Sure, what's there is nice, but a Survival or Time Attack mode would have been welcome. After unlocking everything, you'll have very little reason to come back to the game.
But a lack of modes shouldn't be too big of a deal as long as the gameplay's solid, right? Well, I've got more bad news. The gameplay's about as shallow as the story. Move the Wii Remote up and down to slash vertically, left and right to slash horizontally, and thrust forward to stab. The real problem here is that every single character does the same amount of damage with these basic attacks. Also, you have a bar under your life bar that represents your stamina. As you attack, the bar will deplete, and when it's gone you can't attack until it recharges (which is does fairly quickly). The problem with this is that your special moves (done by holding B and moving the Wii Remote in any of the three attack directions) do more damage for what they take from your stamina bar than the equivalent amount of normal attacks would for the same amount of stamina. Effectively rendering normal attacks useless. You can also do "Critical" attacks by holding A and moving the Wii Remote. These attacks come out slower, but do more damage than a normal attack and are unblockable. When two Critical attacks clash, you'll have to face off against your opponent in a best of five "Rock Paper Scissors" type clash. The problem with this is that in this clash, the game's otherwise very good recognition of the direction you're moving the Wii Remote goes right out the window.
Perhaps the coolest part of the game, though, and a part that ever so slightly redeems the combat system, is the Bankai meter. When the meter fills up, you shake the Nunchuk to trigger your character's Bankai mode (yes, I'm aware that not all characters in the game actually HAVE Bankais…it's still called Bankai mode, even for them). The effects of this mode differ for every character, but it always ends up with your character getting stronger, and gaining a special cutscene super move (with the exception of a few characters). These moves are really cool looking, and do quite a bit of damage. What's disappointing, however, is that most matches boil down to both players rushing to fill up their Bankai meter. Also, the "powering up" cutscenes that play when you activate your Bankai are unskippable, meaning you'll probably get tired of seeing them before too long.
The biggest disappointment in Bleach: Shattered Blade is the AI. There's no other way to put it, this game is EASY. How easy? Let's just put it this way. Just as an experiment I picked Ikkaku, laid on my bed, closed my eyes, and didn't open them until I'd beaten Arcade mode. That's right, you don't even have to look at the screen to beat this game. Plus, a good majority of the time the CPU won't even bother to fight back. For example, Byakuya's Shuukei Hakuteiken leaves him completely vulnerable for about four to five seconds while it's charging up. Most of the time, the CPU opponent will just stand there and do nothing, instead of trying to knock him out of the move. It's really disheartening that the game is this easy. Even pumping up the difficulty to Hard makes very little difference. A friend of mine's five year old son can beat this game. Seriously. I'm not kidding.
Still, if you're a Bleach fan, you'll likely be able to overlook all these grievances and still have a good time with the game. It's chock full of fanservice, including characters that won't be seen in the US anime for over a year, and unlocking everything in the game will take you quite a bit of time to do. It's just disappointing, though, to look at the quality of the DS Bleach games and wonder why Sega and Polygon Magic couldn't have tried just a little harder with Bleach: Shattered Blade. As evidenced by the DS games, the Bleach license has loads of potential for developers, so it's a shame to see something like this game result from it. I talked in my hands-on of Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution about the "anime game curse". Well, unlike Naruto, this game succumbs to the curse, and hard. It really is nothing more than shallow fanservice that fans of Bleach will still enjoy, but anyone expecting a deep, quality fighter will be disappointed with.