BlazBlue: Continuum Shift didn't need to exist, but I'm happy that it does.
The original BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, released about a year ago, was a solid and entertaining 2D fighter that was a clear spiritual successor to the Guilty Gear games. It was slick, it was hard-rockin', and it was a great game. There weren't any real oversights that needed correcting in a sequel: Like Super Street Fighter IV from earlier in the year, Continuum Shift simply adds more on top of the already-fantastic BlazBlue core.
Pretty much everything returns from the first game: You have your bog-standard Arcade mode, and the Story mode is back as well. This is where Continuum Shift earns its "sequel" stripes, as all of the characters have full, branching story paths that pick up directly where Calamity Trigger left off. Sort of. There's time travel involved; it's complicated. If you're a fan of the BlazBlue universe and its story, the tale told is fairly interesting when looked at as a whole, but the Story mode is unfortunately no more engaging than it was in the first game - you read and listen to LOTS of dialogue, you pick up the controller, you fight - rinse and repeat.
Thankfully, while the Story mode is just as clunky as it was last time around, the actual gameplay of Continuum Shift is just as superb as it was in Calamity Trigger. There have been the standard tweaks and adjustments made to the systems - the Guard Break has been completely overhauled, for one, and the Burst defensive moves have been changed - but unless you're the type who plays fighting games seriously you won't really notice.
The biggest change is the addition of four new characters: Tsubaki, a friend and comrade-in-arms of several of the other characters who has been ordered to hunt them down for desertion; Hazama, the series' main antagonist; console-exclusive Mu-12 whose existence itself is kind of spoilery; and Lambda-11, who is essentially a palette-swapped Nu-13 whose moves have been mostly balanced. Given that the BlazBlue roster was much smaller than the Street Fighter IV lineup to begin with, it's a similar proportional increase, but getting three new characters as opposed to ten does feel like a let down - it'd feel much more worth-while if the three upcoming DLC characters had been finished in time for release.
The other major addition is the Tutorial mode, a narrated walkthrough of the game's systems from the very basic (here is how you move around) to the advanced (mindgames, proper spacing and zoning, combo strings). It'll almost certainly be useful to new players and intermediate-level fighters, but the presentation of the most advanced and character/specific concepts is ... lacking: Here, read a lot of text about all of the moves and commit it to memory, go!
While Tutorial mode aims to make beginners into intermediate-level players and intermediate-level players into experts, the aptly-named "Beginner Mode" seems like the game is throwing its hands up in the air with a cry of "If they want to mash, let 'em mash!" With Beginner Mode enabled, the game's controls are greatly simplified into something akin to Smash Brothers (directional control plus special button equals special move), and combos are executed solely by hammering down one button. It's actually very fun for a newbie to still feel like they're kicking ass and taking names, but more experienced players will probably opt to leave the mode off since it prohibits the most advanced techniques and attack strings.
Continuum Shift is more BlazBlue. That's what it comes down to. The new characters are great and feel like solid and well-designed additions to the roster, and if you like the series' story then the clunky presentation of the Story Mode probably won't turn you away from finding out what happens next. The gameplay refinements work perfectly, and while the new additions and gameplay modes are all good ideas, the execution therein leaves much to be desired.
But the core game is as fantastic as it's ever been - and by that, I mean it's still really, really good - and at expansion-pack price it's hard to say that BlazBlue fans won't get what they're looking for.
Bottom Line: If you liked BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, then great - it's more of that. Though there aren't that many new characters, they're a worthy addition to the lineup. Many of the new ideas and modes outside of the core gameplay fall flat - Tutorial is a great idea with some presentation issues - but the refinements to the combat ensure that BlazBlue is the slickest hyper-kinetic 2D fighter this side of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. And yes, the music is still awesome.
Recommendation: If you're a fan of BlazBlue or Guilty Gear, you won't go wrong with this. If you didn't like the first game or never played it, think about it, but give it a rental first.
Game: BlazBlue: Continuum Shift
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: July 27, 2010
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3
Available from: Amazon
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
John Funk wishes he was an elegant and refined vampire gothic lolita. Wait, did he just say that out loud?