The nostalgia-based games market is becoming an increasingly crowded playing field, but one genre that’s been notably absent from the throwback renaissance is side scrolling beat em ups. Wulverblade, a recent Switch release from Fully Illustrated, aims to change that, resurrecting the genre with some gloriously gruesome and enjoyable hacking and slashing.
Brawling Grown Up
Set in 120 AD, Wulverblade pits you against the Roman army in a quest to end their ruthless control over your lands. You play as Cardaroc or your choice of two other protagonists, using your sword, fists, and anything else lying around to dismember and destroy the enemy soldiers. You can use the dismembered soldiers to murder more soldiers too as limbs litter the ground, waiting for you to pick them up and chuck them.
This is an old school brawler all grown up, both in terms of content and gameplay. Where games like the arcade classics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time and The Simpsons haven’t aged well due to their rigid controls and slower paced gameplay, Wulverblade keeps the base concepts but improves on them, adding blocks and dodges, weapon variety, and small quality of life tweaks to help make it approachable.
Getting used to playing defensively in a game like this takes some getting used to, but after it clicks things really open up. In fact, after adjusting it plays more like a traditional 2D fighter than the otherwise mindless brawler. You have combo attacks, throws, jumps and a variety of other attacks you can utilize against the constant barrage of baddies, or you can use your environment by blowing up barrels, throwing boxes, etc.
Another interesting combat mechanic that Wulverblade introduces is changeable heavy weapons. You start the game equipped with a regular sword but if you’re looking for a little more punch, broad swords, giant hammers, and tree limbs can be found in the environment and used to bludgeon faces and bodies all around you. These weapons aren’t permanent, eventually breaking, but they stick around long enough to help clear out a few encampments or add variety to your combos.
Work For It
As with any brawler, the combat can feel restrictive at times, but the subtle updates keep barbarous adventure from feeling like a pale imitation of the games that inspire it. Combat never feels unfair, with dying always feeling like a learning experience. Which is good because you’ll die a lot. Old arcade brawlers have always been hard, making you work to get the most out of your 50 cents, but Wulverblade brings it to a new level. About halfway through the first level, you’ll start taking hits, then a few more, and by the time you reach the boss, you’re bruised and bloodied before you can even get him to half health. The game requires you to block and dodge constantly, moving in for a strike while keeping an eye on the archers across the screen. The heightened difficulty works well in this setting though, making each try more rewarding, especially as you get a handle on the mechanics.
If you’re a glutton or just abnormally good at games, the game also has the option for a more classic arcade experience, taking away your unlimited lives and giving you only three.
The game focuses heavily on its campaign but it’s not exactly blazing new trails It’s based on actual events, so it may make some history buffs giddy, but the actual beats are more concerned with getting from point A to B. Action is the real heart of the game, making the most enjoyable play option an arena themed mode where you can put the story aside and just get down to the murder. There are eight levels to choose from, each with their own distinct look, and from there it’s a simple trek to the right while fighting waves of increasingly tough enemies. The area constraints and shorter time requirement make for an easy pick up and play experience that drives you to try and beat your personal best.
While the hacking and slashing itself is plenty of fun, Wulverblade’s world and level design make it all the better. The art style is stunning, rendering its 2D creations into richly detailed cell animations packed with tiny details that easily bring them to life. Small things like characters breathing and animals running in the background contribute a surprising amount to visceral feel of the game and really reflect the amount of love that went into making it. The soundtrack is also stunning, delivering rich orchestral arrangements the build and swell, adding to the chaos while evoking the whole Braveheart-y spirit of it all.
Wulverblade is an enjoyable update to the classic brawler genre that works well as a quick play game while also offering depth and challenge. If you don’t like brawlers, this won’t change that, but if you’re looking to satisfy an old school craving, Wulverblade will more than settle that while delivering stunning environments and rich animations to boot.