(Editors Note: Any Co-op Review that we post will be a review of a game played with another individual. In these reviews, the other individual will either write their own thoughts in a short paragraph at the end of the review or convey their feelings to the writer. In general, most of the co-op reviews you find will be played with a non-gamer, or someone that is not familiar with a particular genre. This is an effort to help you, as a gamer, find games that will be fun to play with the non-gamers in your life.)
Wulverblade tries to emulate the games I grew up playing like Golden Axe, TMNT, Dungeon & Dragons: Tower of Doom, and Guardian Heroes. These were some of my favorite beat em ups, each adding something the others didn’t. While Golden Axe, TMNT, and X-Men were slow evolutions on the co-op arcade brawler, D&D tapped into my love of wizards and warriors tearing up monsters I recognized. Other kids at the arcade would enjoy the game, but not have the same knowledge of what we were fighting. What the hell is a beholder? I knew. I had faced them down in games with my friends in the pen and paper version. The game almost had a roleplaying feel to it. Then came Guardian Heroes. It changed everything about how a brawler worked. A true leveling system that completely sucked away hours of our lives, much like “The Machine” from Princess Bride. Now, we see a revival. Wulverblade joins the ranks of Code of Princess and Dragon’s Crown to show that brawler, side-scrollers, and arcade-style co-op games still have a place, even if it is now on the couch.
And in this respect, Wulverblade holds its own. The story is light on the surface but supports itself with plenty of additional information that you can choose to read and watch. Videos are placed on the map as you complete levels that show the real world environments that inspired particular levels in the game. With three characters to choose from and two-player co-op, there is enough variety for the price to keep you interested for a while.
The additional information was just one part of what caught me with the game. Much like the aforementioned Dungeons & Dragons, brawlers, I enjoy knowing a bit about the world and having more of a story than “kill the boss at the end of this level”. The fact that things are loosely based on historical tribes or people and events, adds a bit to the game, though this goes over the top and is much more “inspired by” than “recreating” in nature.
You take the role of one of three Vikings. Big mean Viking, lady Viking, and short Viking with a shield. Each plays in a unique way and has special rage attacks that create a unique play style. That unique playstyle only goes so far, though. As with most arcade-style games, the combat is fairly shallow. Some dash attacks, a little air juggling, and a bit of defending are about as deep as you get. With that said, the characters do feel unique enough that you would want to play through twice, at least. The lady Viking with a shield and the short Viking with a shield felt somewhat similar. Big angry Viking felt completely different and was my personal favorite to play.
The combat, while not especially deep, is gorgeous. Not just because of the hand-drawn art style, but because of the violent brutality that somewhat tells the story of the history that the game portrays. This is not a history lesson in a game. There is some information you can find, but you won’t be able to tell the entire history of the Viking-Roman wars. Still, combat brings a brutality that few other games do. My wife and I both laughed a great deal the first time we cut the head off an enemy, picked it up, and threw it at another. This isn’t a real way to do significant damage, but throwing body parts, ranging from head to foot, adds to the enjoyment and comically dark nature of the game.
A note on the hand-drawn art. This is some of the better work done on a brawler. It isn’t Dragon’s Crown, but it is very attractive and has more of a comic book style than the competition. Wulverblade has its own style, and if we see a sequel, I hope to see the game expand on that style.
The game is also easy enough to play with a non-gamer partner. My wife, someone that has played very few video games in her life had a great deal of fun, or at least laughed a lot, as we hacked our way through enemies for about half an hour a night. I would only occasionally need to call out commands during boss fights, such as “Call the wolves!” or “Use your rage!” The game is not easy, but it is easy enough to pick up and mash away and get some stress and frustration out for the non-gamer in your life.
The quality of the game is top notch, from the art to the combat to the couch co-op, there is plenty to like. Add in the hidden areas, historical unlockables that tell more of the history of the events that inspired the game and a brutal arena mode and you get more than enough bang for your buck out of the game. There are only two real issues I had with the game. First, you only get 8 levels. While they are long enough to sit down and play about an hour a night with your co-op partner, or solo, the game won’t last you more than a few days if you play for long. You will likely get a total of 4-6 hours out of the story mode.
Second, I spent more time fighting characters that were off the screen than those that were on screen. This is partly due to the pushy nature of fighting, and the need to get to enemies fast. But I probably spent more time attacking the sides of my screen – which spewed little blood droplets into the viewable area, than actually fighting characters I could see. This significantly hurt the experience for me, but the game is so much fun, it wasn’t a deal breaker. I do hope to see another Wulverblade title launch in the near future, with a slightly deeper combo system, a few new characters, a longer story, and a wall against the side of the screen. The game has promise, and if you enjoy the arena mode it has legs (until you hack them off) that will keep you entertained as you come back to it from time to time, but ultimately, the few missed opportunities bring the game down just enough to keep it out of the running for one of my go-to co-op games. I enjoyed my time with it, but I don’t see a reason to revisit it any time soon.
The Non-Gamer Take:
This game allowed me to get frustrations out through incredibly violent fighting and the excessive amount of cursing (from me) that went along with it. Overall, it was a good time.