Review: Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend Vita
Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend is possibly the most incomprehensible title on the Vita. The title looks like nonsense, the plot is complicated, the characters are bizarre, and every time I think I’ve worked out the fighting system, I get smacked right back to square one. Despite all this, BB:CSE is probably the best fighter you can get on the Vita right now, better than even the mighty Marvel vs Capcom 3.
BB:CSE is the Vita version of the relatively new beat-em-up series from Arc System Works, the guys behind the cult classic Guilty Gear series. This pedigree shows, as battles in BB:CSE can be utterly bananas. Fights take place mano-a-mano, and are rendered in glorious 2D. The characters look pin sharp on the Vita, and the high res screen gives you a great view of the proceedings. There are loads of modes to play with, from your bog-standard arcade mode to Unlimited Mars mode, pitting you against ruthless AI opponents. Thankfully, tutorials are also included in this package.
The battle system is BB:CSEs biggest draw, and is the most asymmetric fighter you can imagine. From the initial look of it, each character has roughly the same controls, with buttons for light and heavy punches, blocking, special meters, etc. Where it mixes things up is the Drive button, assigned to X. This works differently for every character, and always does something cool. This can range from controlling a marionette helper, conjuring up ice swords, even (my personal favorite) turning into a werewolf. Every character needs a unique approach to master, which is refreshing to see.
Any worries about complexity are dissipated by the encyclopedic tutorial system. Where some games would be content to simply show you the buttons, or give you an empty field to mess around in, BB:CSE goes the whole hog. Every action is explained in meticulous detail, which may seem a little overlong at first. Thankfully, the lessons are all quite funny, with the player constantly insulted by their teacher, so you shouldn’t lose interest. As you delve deeper, the tutorials explain systems like Cancels, Revolver techniques, Heat gauges, and many more. This deep explanation helps you analyse how you play, and helps you become a better player. There’s even character specific tutorials, to help hone your skills with some of the more complicated fighters. As a relative newcomer to the series, I found this immensely helpful, and even veterans will find something useful here.
If the complexities of the controls get a bit much, you can switch to the new Stylish controls. Much like MvC3s Simple mode, this allows you to wail on the attack buttons and watch the screen explode. For new players, this is great for getting to know the feel of the combat, but you will soon want to change back to the default Technical controls. Stylish mode limits the players repertoire, and many of the games intricacies will be hidden from you if you stick to it. Once you feel comfy with the flow of battle, its worth switching to Technical as soon as possible to get the most from your favorite character.
As much as learning your own character is important, it’s just as useful to know your opponents. Different opponents will need different strategies, which helps keep fights fresh. Carl Clover uses a marionette to hide behind and fight for him, so you can decide to separate the two from each other, or smash the marionette to bits before you take on the relatively weak Carl. Characters like Makoto or Bang can drop damaging nails down, forcing you to mind your surroundings as you fight. Rachel and Arakune can loose off tiny monsters which move towards you, which can be taken out or avoided entirely once after some practice. Each loss brings new knowledge, and each battle hones your skills as you progress.
BB:CSE offers up bags of options to play with, the main menu contains almost 20 different modes. As previously noted, arcade mode provides a simple ten fight story for each character, and is a great place to try out your skills. A full story mode is included too, which gives each character a far more developed plot to follow, with cut-scenes and interludes a constant presence. Abyss mode charges your character to reach the bottom of a dungeon, and lets you spend your fight winnings on upgrades and bonuses as you progress. The true test is Unlimited Mars mode, which sets your fighter against godlike opponents, who will rip the unready to shreds. There’s so much unique content here, you will wonder how they fitted it all in.
No fighter these days is complete without an online mode, and BB:CSE comes with a suite of online modes, including Ranked matches, team battles and more. Connecting is easy, and you must choose a character before searching opponents. This seems to be in place to stop players trumping each other with their selections, which is a nice touch, but for some reason you need to return to the character select screen at the start of every battle, even though you can only select the one fighter. This seemed a bit out of place, and could have used trimming down a bit.
Connections online were pretty stable when we tested it, and matches were found quickly and painlessly. Winning is another matter though. The Blazblue series is regarded as one of the more hardcore fighters, with its fanbase devoted to mastering their technical skills. This equates to a lot of players online who have been sharpening their skills for a while. Online dominance will not come cheaply, and even well matched fights can hinge on one bad move. Make no mistake, it’s still fun, but repeated losses can wear you down.
BB:CSE has cemented itself firmly as the Vitas premium fighter, with its gorgeous visuals, deep combat system and frankly gigantic feature set. It will take many hours to experience all the single player story content, and modes like Abyss help extend the life of the game, keeping it fresh and exciting. The complexities may put off some of you, but stick with it and you will play one of the most rewarding fighters around today.