My two cents on the whole “skill gap” in fighting games is thus: I’ve been playing for decades and I can understand why old school players don’t like their hard-earned skills being essentially nerfed as more fighting games provide simpler control schemes for new players – but I don’t mind too much, especially if the game is new and has been designed that way to begin with. Blade Strangers is one of those new, beginner-friendly fighting games where special and super moves are easy to pull off and combo timing is generous and loose – while still being deep enough for hardcore fighting fans, the description asserts. Whoa whoa whoa! Hold your horses there, developers, I’ll be the judge of that.
True enough, the control scheme is very easy. Special moves are executed by simply pressing a direction and the special button. Throws, supers and other moves are done by pressing two or three buttons together. No rolling or charge motions, no fireball motions or DP motions. The combos are very loose and feel quite Guilty Gear gattling combo-ish – although lacking GG’s variety. Players can easily execute combos by hammering one button and then the special button and experts can effortlessly create elaborate aerial combos in the game’s juggle-friendly physics.
The closest thing Blade Strangers has to a complex mechanic is the Offensive Skill – a universal move somewhat like Guilty Gear’s Roman Cancel and somewhat like KOF14’s Max Mode cancel. Basically it allows your character to cancel the remaining frames of a move (at the cost of half a super bar) and rush towards their opponent to extend their combo.
So, with regards to the “deep enough for hardcore” claim, I’d say it’s true… just barely. There’s enough for experts to sink their teeth into, if only for a couple of bites. My biggest issue with the system is that the characters do feel a tad homogenous. They all have the same basic gattling combo and only one or two of them have anything outside the template of: three special moves, one aerial special move, two supers. Still, their special moves and supers differentiate them just enough to make them distinct, if not completely unique.
In case you didn’t know, all of the characters in Blade Strangers are from different games – a sort of Smash Bros-style mashup of characters from popular indie titles. I’ll be honest, I only know where three of these characters come from: Shovel Knight, of course; the grotesque fetus from The Binding of Isaac; and the buxom, near-naked Solange from Code of Princess, who seems to be the poster-girl for the game. The characters all look great and the animation, while decent, is a bit choppy. It could have done with a few more tween frames to make it appear smoother, in my opinion.
Oh, and the game has a decent amount of single-player content, including a story mode and a genuine arcade mode which is nice. Blade Strangers is fun, but I doubt it’s destined for greatness in its current form, although if it takes the well-trodden path of refining itself through future iterations, it could become a go-to casual/expert halfway game in the future.