bluepixie's Bleach: Dark Souls (Nintendo DS) review

A gorgeous haemorrhage of colours and fantastic 2D animation

I’m sure some of you will scream at me for this, but this is my first venture into the world of Bleach. Don’t start, come on, I know my anime. It’s just one of these shows that just never appealed to me, along with Naruto, Dragon Ball Z and Samurai X and other fighting heavy shows. It’s the incessantly thin excuses for slow-mo charges, super charged fireballs and over the top voice acting. I’m sure it’s great, but I’ll stick to my Ergo Proxy and Guardian of the Spirit thanks.   You bunch of candy coloured action junkies!

No hate mail please, thanks.*

So, when this one turned up in my hallway (Chris, you need to stop teleporting in titles, it’s unsettling) I almost slipped a nasty turn of phrase that normally ensues when people ask if I like My Chemical Romance. However to my surprise, I’ve found that this particular instance of licensing is particularly tasty, much like a bag of jalapeño flavoured crisps. I know I shouldn’t eat them but before I know it, I’m licking the packet out.

Maybe that’s just me.

 Don't you know who I AM!?! ZAP!!! SHAZAM!!!

Considering Bleach Dark Souls was developed by the creators of action classics such as Gunstar Heroes, Alien Soldier and Radiant Silvergun I expected a level of fluidity to proceedings; this is indeed the case. The characters dash across the screen with precision and deliver devastating moves with ease through the smooth as honey controls. It includes an excellent array of touchscreen buttons to activate the chosen fighter’s super moves, greatly levelling the playing field and granting access to beginners. All the while it treated my eyeballs to a gorgeous haemorrhage of colours and fantastic 2D animation, zooming and in and out with finesse. The engine is responsive and solid feeling in contrast to the barely contained chaos of the gameplay, which is in a very similar vein to the Guilty Gear series. It had me dodging, double-jumping, air-dashing, and hopping back and forth between two movement planes as I fought like a hyperactive anime chap.  

It may seem like some kind of frantic button mash, but it’s anything but. Tactics can be applied through arguably the most interesting aspect of Bleach, the spirit cards (Reifu cards if you want to get snooty) which act as power-ups and nerfs to opponents. The spirit card system is arguably what sets the Bleach fighting games apart from others, and rewards well for perseverance. Once I got past the over contrived tutorial, it was actually very straight forward to use. Much like a game of Magic, decks of spirit cards are constructed before play and "activated" in battle using the touch screen. Cards can act as power-ups for yourself, nerfs to enemy (lower defence, attack damage etc) to odd ones (force opponents into a crouching stance). A well played card can swing the battle without being overpowered or making light of the actual fighting. It has also been rebalanced from the first game to stop players from rapidly playing card after card in succession, thank the anime gods, Hayao Miyazaki I guess.

 What is that?!? I giant, mutated, possessed hamster perhaps?

The gameplay has also been rebalanced from Bleach: Blade of Fates and includes almost as many characters as there are episodes of Naruto. The learning curve is balanced just right throughout the story mode providing the opportunity to pick up the basics and be worked up to move advanced play. It serves up the meat of the single player experience with a reasonably long campaign (about 6 hours) complete with plenty of dialogue on the side. The story never really feels like anything more than a linking platform for the fights but there are some notable moments that make it worthwhile. Some of the interaction between characters is laugh out loud, in particular Hisayo Mochizuki (wee pink haired girl) calling Orihime Inoue (big breasted ginger) “Jiggles”, repeatedly. Jokes about breasts are funny, right? Well, the Japanese certainly seem to think so.  

There is also incentive to progress with art, character colours, and more to unlock from the game's shop if that tickles your buttons. It also offers in-engine challenges (no mini-games here!) such as collecting bananas within a time-limit, fighting multiple opponents, avoiding damage, healing characters and even a quiz on Bleach trivia to name but a few. Needless to say for the latter I required a lot of guess work and a helping hand from Wikipedia, which was teeth grindingly irritating to say the least. However, the single player is generally a satisfying experience and even includes some very large boss monsters, or Hollows as they are otherwise known.

 At Master Chef, Ikkaku demonstrated his meat cleaving skills with gusto.

The core fun of the game however is its multiplayer. This is Guilty Gear meets Smash Brothers; enter 4 people on a small screen, set for pure deathmatch or teams in a visual explosion of crazy moves and ridiculous sound effects from game and player alike. Boars running across the screen smashing all in their path, mighty ice dragoons twisting through the air, gods looming in from the foreground and girls hurling alarmed teddy bears while pillars of light comb the screen. It’s a hilarious spectacle of over the top anime entertainment and I love it.   However despite the obvious bonus of single cart play the truncated download menu only displays characters by their name, confusing to Bleach newbie’s such as myself. Also, the download times are quite severe; we’re talking several minutes every time a character/level is changed severally damping the flow of action. Some of the animated levels also can trip up the framerate during heated 4 player mash ups, however, with 2 carts or more these issues are rectified. It can also be played online complete with a friend/rival system and a range of battle options just like the local. This is DS multiplayer at its finest.

 Ichigo's move the "Issentzuki" in action, otherwise known as the "pwn lazor".

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Bleach: Dark Souls. The constantly delivering gameplay and extremely attractive presentation make it a fantastic fighting game, despite my unfamiliarity with the licence. The multiplayer is fantastic regardless of the small technical issues and has much to offer as both a fun brawler and an all out competitive fighter. I still stand by my dislike of the series but this is an excellent fighting game nonetheless like no other on the DS. If you’re looking for the ultimate fighting game on the DS or need to get your Bleach hit, look no further, this is it.

Now, I think I have just enough time for a quick game……………………oh great here we go, who is the captain of Squad 11?! 

Anyone?!? Argh!

Niall Macdonald – 26/03/09

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