Sunday 10 April 2016

Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel

Don't think about the name too much; you'll just end up giving yourself a headache. Bottom line is that this game takes female characters from a list of different animé and game franchises, and throws them together for a beat 'em up. Do you enjoy (or are you even aware of) things such as Fate/Zero, Demonbane, Saya no Uta (AKA Song of Saya), and Full Metal Daemon: Muramasa? I'd be surprised if you'd heard of all the above, as most of the characters are very obscure outside of Japan. With only the tiniest proportion of the English-speaking audience familiar with the majority of characters here, the game can't rely on fan service. It has to be, y'know... a good game.

Published by Marvelous Entertainment and out now for PS3 and PS4, Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel has a bit of an uphill struggle. Even the latest generation of consoles already has a wide variety of animé-esque beat 'em ups to choose from and, with such a long list of games/stories drawn on here, the appeal is actually reduced rather than increased thanks to the aforementioned obscurity. Nitroplus is the name of a company, you see, often linked with visual novels. They even have their own mascot – Super Sonico – who is playable here. If you're the sort of weirdo who gets sweaty at the thought of seeing this mascot's tits bounce briefly on the title screen then, well, you're well served here.

Indeed, the inevitable pervcentric presentation given the all-female cast is present and correct, though it's not nearly so bad as you might expect. It's tame even compared to something like Dead or Alive, not least because most characters are sensibly dressed. No gratuitous knicker shots during fights, nor even boob physics which see breasts swinging around like nunchucks. There are some distinctly uncomfortable lines in some of the story modes though, and a few of the illustrations would lead to an extremely awkward conversation were a loved one to walk in at the wrong moment.

But! The most important bit – the gameplay – is rather good. Despite what you might expect, it's largely pick-up-and-play for anybody with even a casual interest in beat 'em ups. Special moves are activated by Street Fighter style direction sweep and button combos, and even the more complex systems such as gauge-powered super moves and (especially) dodging attacks are more n00b-friendly than you'll find elsewhere. Just as well really because, disappointingly, there's no sort of tutorial mode at all.

There are 33 characters in NB:HUD, which sounds impressive until you discover that only 12 of them are actually playable. There are another two DLC characters which appear on the character select screen (cheeky sods!), which at time of writing you can nab for free if you're quick as part of the launch promo. Then, in a throwback to the nineties, the final boss isn't playable. The rest are relegated to support status, little more than single-button special moves with cooldown periods. What I find odd is that one of the characters with the most global appeal, Akane from Psycho Pass (a brilliant show you should totally watch), is one of the ones doomed to Support.

Each online match I played was nice and smooth, without even that weird pre-match lag that BlazBlue suffers from. While unranked is simple enough, ranked setup is very odd, asking you to choose your characters and stage before even searching for a match. Nowhere is this explained so, to be honest, I don't even know if I was searching properly. Finding ranked matches wasn't difficult, but it was usually experienced players kicking me (presumably) because I didn't have a long fight history behind me.

The fight system is solid, characters are varied and balanced, and you don't need to have devoted your life to the genre to stand a chance online. However storytelling is crap, tutorials are a really daft omission, and making less than half of the cast playable is baffling. It's a good game, but the competition is too strong; ironically for such a niche title, it works best as a newcomer's introduction to the genre.

Gives itself a fighting chance at 3/5.


Luke Kemp

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