If you're either bemoaning the lack of available beat-em-ups or that the genre has gone too far down the button-mashing hole Wulverblade is here to satisfy your needs while challenging you to evolve your skills.
It has taken some time but Wulverblade is the real deal. While it’s most certainly a game inspired by many classics of both the beat-em-up and slash-em-up eras, it’s very much its own game. Better yet, it’s a wake-up call to the genre, a slap in the face for it to modernize and work harder to make something more of itself. With its gorgeously gory artwork, historically-inspired settings, and absolutely brutal and challenging gameplay, Wulverblade is a best of genre treat to be savored.
The journey begins after you (or one friend as well if you’d like) choose one of the members of the Wulver clan. There’s Caradoc, the middle-of-the road warrior who plays with a balance of speed and strength, his sister Guinevere who is a bit more agile but isn’t as powerful, and Brennus who is more of a grappling mountain of a character but who appropriately moves more slowly. The differences between them aren’t just cosmetic, they each have the same general moveset but execute key moves quite differently in subtle ways. The moveset is absolutely massive, using all 4 face buttons and mixing in directional double-taps as well to give you a staggering number of options with which to slay your foes.
Given the level of challenge in the game, particularly with some of its boss battles, you will absolutely need to learn to make use of as many of skills as possible and learn when it’s appropriate to use them. What sets Wulverblade apart from its brethren is that you won’t be button mashing your way through to the end. You’ll need to learn how best to deal with every type of foe you face, whether ranged, shielded, or armed with spears or swords, in order to be effective. Enemies are smart and will out-maneuver you if you’ll let them. To survive, you’ll need to use everything the game offers. Normal weapons (or enemy body parts) are found on the ground and can be thrown while heavy weapons supplement your offensive capabilities. A rage meter will put you into a frenzy that will help you kill many foes but it also recovers health. Even things like spikes or fire in the environment will help make quick work of waves of enemies. The boss fights are an even greater test as they have both formidable attacks and health. You’ll need to watch for their telegraphed attacks and either dodge or counter them with one of your specific attacks in order to defeat them. While very little in the game is easy, the first time around if you’re observant and develop appropriate strategies for dealing with your various opponents you will find yourself cutting through the forces of your enemy in no time.
The presentation of Wulverblade shines through with high-quality artwork, character design, and almost cinematic action sequences that play in silhouettes. Never has a game in this genre looked this stunning and it may not happen again anytime soon. The attention to detail given to the history that served as inspiration is fascinating as the video and pictures help bring a deeper connection to the game. After seeing many of the ruins that inspired locations used in the game, it’s hard not to be struck by the love not just for this genre but for the rich history of Britain.
None of this is to say there aren’t concerns. Becoming easily frustrated or discouraged is going to be a challenge. You won’t be able to muddle through this, but once you accept that and begin to make use of the moves and opportunities that are available, you’ll be astonished with how much more easily you’ll be able to defeat your enemies. One issue tied to the game’s excellent art, particularly in the foreground, is that it sometimes will obstruct objects on the ground, including key ones like health. It will be good practice to run across the bottom of the screen at times just to be sure you didn’t miss anything. The difficulty spiked in the third level, including a tough-as-nails boss that you’ll need to work out a plan to defeat. Even after I discovered how to beat him the window of opportunity closed pretty quickly and that led to some frustration. From that point on though until the aggravatingly-challenging final boss, I found that I was often able to get to each level’s mid-way checkpoint (which you can then restart from) often and work out a way to finish the level in a just few additional attempts.
Overall, Wulverblade is an absolute masterpiece and for people who have been bemoaning the lack of quality beat-em-ups it should provide many hours of meaty combat and carnage. To really enjoy it you’ll need to overcome falling into old habits and committing to learning all of the moves and nuance made available to you. Your reward will be a very viscerally satisfying and overall bloody good time, with some crazy surprises you won’t want to miss out on.