It has been one heck of a year for indies on the Nintendo Switch – from multi-platform gems like Stardew Valley and Snake Pass to smaller, niche exclusives (or ‘Nindies’) like Kamiko or Golf Story. The onslaught of new indie titles is unrelenting on the Switch and one such niche nindie is Fully Illustrated studio’s newest game: Wulverblade. This is a 2-D brawler inspired by classics such as Final Fight and Comix Zone set in ancient Brittania. This is our Wulverblade review.
Wulverblade takes place in 120 AD Brittania, where the Roman army has seized the southern lands. Caradoc, Guinevere, and Brennus, northern tribe guardians, must rally the other war bands to resist and push back the invading Roman legions. Sounds like the beginning of a movie, right? In fact, the story is phenomenal and compelling throughout Wulverblade – by far the best cinematics and storytelling of any side-scrolling beat-em-up I’ve played. And that’s just the hook; Wulverblade’s combat is the real deal and not to be taken lightly. Throughout Wulverblade’s eight campaign levels you play as one of three characters that will hack, slash, stab, beat, bash, headbutt, and throw decapitated heads (and other limbs) at the multitude of enemies between them and the boss.
Combat controls are simple and easy to learn, but the deviations of maneuvers can be complex and difficult to master in the thick of the fray, and each character has unique attacks and behaves differently as well. Basic slashes can be upward swings with the flick of the left joystick, and your run-attacks can be a great tool for knocking down multiple enemies at once, allowing you to take them out more carefully. Every character can also call a pack of wolves once per level, which knock enemies down to deal impressive damage. Utilizing this ability, as well as the environmental weapons you can pick-up and throw, will be the key to minimizing damage while taking out the fodder throughout the levels.
But that’s just the grunts, and it’s the bosses that are truly a challenge. Each level has one mini-boss halfway through and one boss at the end of the level. After defeating the mini-boss, you save at a checkpoint, which you will return to in case of death. These bosses, albeit simple enough to recognize their attack patterns, require quick reaction times to either dodge or block their attacks. Their tell-sign is a nice, bold exclamation point above their head but to recognize their animation and pull off the requisite defense may take several deaths before you’re able to beat them smoothly.
Annoyingly, there is no checkpoint before the bosses and you’re forced to trudge through half the level before you can face them again. As much as I love the Dark Souls series, this annoyance should not belong in a current era game. At least I don’t have to start the whole game over like the old arcade brawlers, so I guess it’s still an improvement. But it’d be nice if there were checkpoints right before the bosses so that I could just focus on the fight rather than worrying about trying to survive on my way back to the boss. That said, there came a point in the campaign where I could not – for the life of me – beat the next boss. It was a bumpy road just to get to him, let alone get anywhere close to beating him. The tell animations were too similar, and I could not differentiate between the attacks I needed to dodge and the ones I needed to block. Inevitably, I prevailed – but, again, the Dark Souls comparisons persist as I told myself repeatedly to “git gud”.
Maybe a by-product of the genre, but the game did not feel snappy or responsive enough; I wish my character moved more swiftly up/down lanes as well as dodging and blocking with the shield. Sometimes controls felt unresponsive when I wanted to dodge-roll or block, but if you’re already stuck in an animation mid-swing, you are wide-open for an attack.
A nice aspect, however, is the capability to play split-screen co-op with a friend. Too few games include this feature anymore and I was happy to see its inclusion even though I have no one to play with me. Playing in co-op doesn’t necessarily make the game easier, however; as even more enemies spawn throughout levels. It does help in tackling bosses though, as one player can whack away while the boss is focusing on the other player; and that’s really all the help I need.
One other mode to play in co-op is in the arenas. There are seven different arenas that offer a survival mode to rack up points in wave after wave of enemies in a seemingly infinite number of waves. You can even select your starting wave if you want to challenge yourself without a warm-up: I went up to wave 1007 (not that I could beat it, mind you, I just wanted to see what it was like). This is a great mode to both practice and hones your skills as well as show off your high scores to others.
Last, I greatly appreciated the historical content that’s available to unlock in the game. As you go through the levels, you can find small collectibles and notes hidden in pots, crates, and other miscellaneous breakable objects. In the main menu, these extras offer nice history lessons about the pieces of weapons or gear you can find, as well as historical context as to what happened in 2nd century Brittania. In addition, concept art and character art can also be viewed in this Extras menu.
Wulverblade is one of those hidden gems that I wish had a bigger marketing push behind it. In the sea of indie titles coming to the Nintendo Switch on a regular basis, it’s easy for some of them to be overlooked. I absolutely loved my time with Wulverblade and – despite getting stuck early on in the game – I can’t wait to get back in and reach higher and higher scores on the leaderboards. For those worried about the difficulty, studio Fully Illustrated has communicated that they are looking at implementing an easier difficulty mode, as well as providing more checkpoints in levels – like a checkpoint right before the bosses. I absolutely recommend Wulverblade to everyone on the Switch; especially if you loved classic arcade brawlers like Streets of Rage or Golden Axe.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10
- History lessons showcase weapons/armor
- Beautiful, hand-drawn graphics look great either docked to a TV or in Handheld mode
- High-Scores after missions/Survival harken back to arcade days; it’s a nice touch
- Bloody melee action feels visceral and aptly barbaric
- Difficulty curve too steep; “Git Gud” is right
- No checkpoints before bosses