Bladeslinger: Worth the Wait, Just Wish There Wasn’t One
After much finagling and whining I’ve finally managed to get my mitts on an early copy of Bladeslinger. Outside of some missing item descriptions — and no ability to take screencaps, unfortunately — I’ve been told what I have is pretty much a finished product. After spending four-plus hours in a car with my nose buried in the game, I’ve come to one final, resounding conclusion:
It rules. Hard.
Seriously. And that’s before a trip to Indianapolis, then after a trip to Indianapolis, the only two things guaranteed to put me in a terrible mood anyway. It’s like the ultimate acid test: If I’m going to Indy and I still like it, it’s probably pretty good. If I’m coming back and I still enjoy it, you know it is.
In fact, the town Bladeslinger’s set in, Hammer’s Peak, is a lot like Naptown — dusty, barren, and full of mutants. The difference? In Bladeslinger, you use a magical gun/sword combo to engage your enemies, not lowered eyes and a quickened pace.
This is straight-up as close to a console experience as I’ve seen in a mobile game so far. It wouldn’t be far fetched to think that a few years ago people might have paid $50 or $60 for the title (and had a blast with it) on a 360 or PS3. There are some snags, which I’ll outline, but overall Kerosene Games has put out a project that is every bit a AAA title.
I’ve got to admit I’m a sucker for a bizarro-western world. The game reminded me of the first three or four Gunslinger books (i.e. the good ones) from the title screen. This is not a bad way to curry immediate favor with me. William, the ‘slinger referenced in the title, does a lot more than Roland Deschain on the offensive end. Though you can, and will, fill your enemies with a whole bunch of lead in your time in Hammer’s Peak, and can even specialize your character to that end, a lot of the fun comes from the melee and magic systems the game has to offer.
And oh, are there systems. And combat. The unlock system is as deep and robust as any console blockbuster’s. Using gold, which you get for completing tasks and killing enemies, and soul gems, the shards of which you find hidden throughout Hammer’s Peak, you can fix up your William as you see fit, upgrading his guns, health, melee damage/capabilities, and so on. The fighting itself is based on a combo system that’s as skill-based and fun as I’ve seen in a mobile game. Each bullet/sword slash landed counts as another tick on a combo counter. A third punch attack allows you to stun your enemies — and chain the attacks together in the process.
There are also standard block and dodge options, as well as context-sensitive defensive keys that pop up on screen when needed. Bosses and higher-tier enemies bring another interesting defensive mechanism, which forces you to quickly trace a rune on the screen in order to escape damage.
Next on the list of things the game does right: the graphics. Again we can go back to the mid-lifecycle console comparison. My GSIII unfortunately doesn’t come standard with an HDMI out, so I couldn’t try it on my TV without a converter cable, but on the phone’s screen the game looks absolutely amazing. For everything else it does right I’m confident in saying that this is probably the best-looking mobile game ever made, at least from a pixel-pushing standpoint… we can argue art direction, etc. all day, but that’s all subjective. I don’t think anyone’s going to tell you it’s ugly, however, no matter what their opinion on the subject matter.
The gameplay and graphics work in tandem to make my biggest gripe about Bladeslinger. While the framerate is decent in general, things could get a little choppier than what I personally found acceptable when the action got really heavy, especially when there was fire on the screen. Since my Iconia Tab is about as technologically advanced as a VCR at this point, I couldn’t test on anything more than my phone, but the iOS reviews indicate a great framerate throughout. Whether this is a test build issue (something I was told I shouldn’t see too much of, save for the item descriptions), an Android fragmentation thing, or a general game issue, I won’t know until I get my hands on a final release… but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s one of the last two items. Whatever it is, I’m super curious to find out.
Because of this, the action can get a little too frantic at times… something that can be a bit of a pain with such a skill-based system. To be clear, this is not a game that rewards button-mashing or thoughtless play. While this is generally a good thing, I found myself getting frustrated with trying to manage everything going on at once. It didn’t happen often, but I encountered it frequently enough that I thought it bore a mention.
Otherwise, the controls are great. As Kerosene cofounder Brett Seyler noted in our recent interview, the Android version comes out of the “box” with both a standard, one-hand option, as well as a more advanced two-hand, virtual-stick option. Both options work well, though I prefer the finesse and control granted by the latter. Being able to choose whether to punch, shoot, roll, or whatever else by way of a button press or gesture lends itself much more to my personal playstyle, and made killing that annoying elite mob or boss a lot more rewarding because of it.
Finally, it’s worth noting that both the campaign and arena game modes are a blast, and it’s really cool that your stats (money, gems, upgrades, etc.) carry over across each. The campaign is your basic story mode, of course. The arena, on the other hand, throws William in a hopeless, wave-after-wave situation, which is perfect for a short slaughter session. It’s also a good way to make some quick cash for upgrades/health ups if you find yourself stuck in the story mode.
Bladeslinger is a very, very good game. I’m not sure if I should be upset Kerosene made us Android folks wait that much longer to play it or thrilled that we finally get a chance to. Especially with the Play Store’s 15-minute return policy, there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t give this a shot if you’re at all curious… because, again, it rules. Hard. Really hard. Forgive the fifteen year old’s lingo here, because it’s true. Try it and tell me I’m wrong.
Note: As I finished this review the game released on the Play Store, though the final version only shows as available for download on my Iconia. As soon as I get clarification as to when the GSIII version comes out, I’ll update you all on the framerate issues I experienced in the early build. Thanks for reading!
Evan Wade: Galaxy SII, Acer Iconia Tab