Awoooooo! Wulverblade slashes it’s way to Steam, PS4, Switch, and Xbox.
Type: Single-player, Local Co-op
Genre: Beat Em Up, Arcade
Brawler, Hack and Slash
Developer: Fully Illustrated,
Publisher: Darkwind Media
Release date: 30 Jan, 2018
Let the blood begin to spill
The howl of war echoes through your ears from beginning to end in Wulverblade. This is a fine example of a side scrolling brawler/beat-em-up hack and slash with a story and arcade mode that, though fairly simple in playstyle and lacking in quick gameplay until much later in the game, has a tough as nails approach to levels where the onslaught is outright brutal. When you defeat a level, you earn it. It’s an nice indie with a good degree of polish. Now, let’s look a little closer.
I really feel the story is where Wulverblade shines rather brightly even if it is fairly brief. It begins with you living in Brittania and fighting off the Roman hordes as you move down a road to defeat the final boss. What you experience here is not the usual boring action game banter, but some interesting dialogue between characters and decently voice acted on top of that. The animation goes a long way here to give visual substance to the story telling. You are here to learn of the people and the legend od Caradoc, not just kill for hours ( although, there is plenty of that ). The dramatic method used is done very well. Along the way, you discover scrolls and letters along with unlockable insights into the living conditions of the time period. You also meet with the village people who make up the fighting squads who are taking on the overwhelmingly powerful Roman invasion. You get a sense of community along with the history lesson. Yes, you are learning more information about the Roman invasion of Brittania than you probably expected, but it’s not the centerpiece. What the story ends up being about is the lore and legend of it’s Heroes, and in this case, it focuses on Caradoc as a Wulverblade. Don’t expect a Game of Thrones screenplay here, but you’re going to get some great animated dialogue along with the history behind the action. These locations are real and the fights are real. I’m not sure anyone has ever attempted a historically accurate beat-em-up before, but with Wulverblade you get just that. There is certainly a sense of reality as you fight actual legions and traitorous tribes.
From the beginning, your playable character can be chosen from three different fighter types; Caradoc, Brennus, and Guinevere. Each has different stats and strengths that you can use depending on your play style. Caradoc is balanced, Brennus is powerful, and Guinevere is quick and everyone varies by how much damage they can handle.
The fighting is somewhat simple, and I felt it works best with a controller. There is a quick attack, heavy attack, a knockback attack, a running charge knock-em down attack, and a super move where you jump up and slam down to deal heavy splash damage. You also have a few magic attacks with some wolves who come to assist and sort of freeze time, but it can only be used once per level/checkpoint spawn. On top of that, you have what I only describe as an anxiety attack explosion where you can knock back several baddies when completely surrounded at the expense of a chunk of health. There is also a rage meter that, once full from pick ups and executions, can be used to slash incredibly fast, but you can still be hurt and even die if not careful. So, where does this all leave the combat? At first, it’s repetitive and spammy as you either simply slash most of the way through, or use your supermove to get past a boss. However, that only gets you so far. About one third through the game, it is just not enough. You will need to rely on strategy on who to attack first, who to spam attack, when to block, where to dodge, and how much health can be expended in a given checkpoint. I usually died before the end of the level, so the checkpoints were godsends as I was able to get my health back and a wolf call to boot. Still, it’s brutal. I mean, absolutely no holds barred kind of tough past the first level.
There are only two difficulties, Easy and Normal. On Normal, I got halfway through the game with plenty of deaths and an almost blistered thumb. On level 5, though, I simply kept running out of health as I was taking on the boss. The bosses have an insane amount of health and it takes absolutely forever to kill them. So, then you have only two options; find someone to play co-op with you and help out, or play on Easy. I didn’t find anyone to play with me, so I opted to play on Easy for level 5. I’ll just say this, after dying for an hr against that boss on Normal I beat the whole level on Easy using only one life on the first try. Yeah, I didn’t even use up my other two lives, and that included the checkpoints. I tried Normal again, and got my ass handed to me over and over. Switched to Easy and made it though level 6 with no issue, dying only once. So, in my opinion, Wulverblade needs a third difficulty. The Easy is waaaay too easy to play on and Normal is just harder than I can keep up with. There needs to be an intermediate setting to offer less-than-awesome players like myself a fighting chance but not be a stroll in the park like the Easy setting.
What happens in Normal mode is that the hordes are unceasing. I can’t get a rest and they keep whittling at my health. This in and of itself is not too bad, but there is hardly any health to be found. Usually, I get a few tiny apples for health pickups and if I am lucky one or two full health pickups. But, I’ve played for hours and barely got any health items. I’d just keep respawning at the checkpoint. That would be great until you get to a boss, and then it’s a race to defeat them before you run out of health. These battles can last a long time, so if you go in with only 1 life left, there is a good chance you may as well let your character die and wait to get all 3 filled up at a checkpoint. This really becomes apparent towards the end, as the levels get harder and harder the further you go. The last boss is particularly drawn out, and three health lives is not enough. I’d burn them out in no time and then wait for a health pickup, which often never appeared. The game is hard on normal, so keep that in mind.
I really wanted some combos to play with, but there honestly aren’t many in the game save for pushing a button three times in a row or both X and A to knock back enemies at the expensive of my already low health. Some basics like upper and lower attacks would be nice. Also, dodging was hit or miss. Often, I’d dodge, but get blocked by a character or some of the environment. Blocking didn’t really help a ton against bosses, as the attacks were so frequent that in no time flat you would be on your back and many boss attacks were unblockable. I’d get a little better at dodging, but sometimes when I did it I’d just end up frustrated.
“I clicked dodge. dodge please. for the love of god, please dodge correctly! I am clicking it, see?! Ugh”.
It didn’t always work. I’d be better off trying to charge and block, but as I said, some of the attacks are unblockable. You know what I did? I’d just walked around. It worked as well as dodge until the last boss fight where dodging back and forth is essential.
Attacks were repetitive without many combos. Another thing is that there are items on the ground such as knives and body parts. You can pick these up and throw them to injury the enemy. However, it ended up mostly thwarting my attacks as I would pick up an item and throw it rather than lay a good series of light attacks when I wanted to. Additionally, and this is one thing that irritated me a lot, when I went to attack a boss or mid-boss an enemy would get in the way and often instead of slashing at both the boss and the other enemy, my character would grab the lower enemy by the neck and head pummel them, missing the boss entirely. That happened over and over, I wish it wasn’t even part of the attack system. Very frustrating. One last thing, the wolf call for the wolves coming to save me did not work half the time Often, they wolves would get stuck on geometry and in some cases do zero damage when they were stuck beyond the area to attack.
Alongside the single player campaign, there is an Arena arcade mode where you get three lives and a trusty sword. I tried this once, but it didn’t have the same type of engaging combat as the single player. It was mostly good for practice.
Beyond the face pummel issue above, the other thing I didn’t like about Wulverblade was the pace. I played as Caradoc and he simply moves too slowly. It’s almost boring how slow he moves. I guess I could switch to Guinevere, but then it would take forever to kill a boss with itty bitty attacks.
If they would speed up the movement, it would help. It’s my perspective alone, perhaps you are fine with how slow the movement is. I tried to run everywhere, but that often ended up with getting attacked by mistake.
Wulverblade is one of the best looking and sounding brawler indies I’ve played in awhile. Everything looked like it was made for an animated film and the backgrounds were beautiful with a great attention to detail. Lighting even took center stage halfway through the game and the ability to create a bloodbath in that wonderful vector graphic 2D environment surprised me. I would not go so far as to say it’s fantastic, but highly polished.
The Sound also impressed me with the soundtrack initiating that sense of thrill and excitement. The music was very appropriate for the genre and the sound effects created a wonderful sense of mayhem. I especially liked how the body parts would fly around, only to be picked up and thrown as a weapon with bloody heads rolling through the air. Sounds were o point. A great thrill for sure.
Wulverblade is tough and definitely not easy to complete on Normal mode. That said, I also felt like the gameplay lacked some variety. Even when I was working out a strategy, I mostly kept spamming the same attacks over and over. I wish I could have avoid that, but the endless number of enemies makes it mandatory. The history lessons and insight into the life of Brittannia were fun to read through and enjoyable over all. It’s a fine historical game with tipped hats to titles like Golden Axe. I felt some of the movements were slow and often I’d get the wrong type of attack when I wanted to damage a boss due to enemies walking in the way and forcing me to face pummel them instead of slash. The wolves were a nice touch, but they didn’t work too well for me as they got stuck on geometry often. Still, Wulverblade has a lot of polish despite using the same attacks over and over. I do wish there was a third difficulty to choose from, as Normal is brutally tough. I rate this a Save for Later, for when you have the urge for an arcade beat-em-up slasher to play. It’ll provide a good challenge for sure. At $15 it is very reasonably priced. Pick it up now or later on when on sale.