Double Dragons, Spartan X, Final Fight, Dino Crisis, Shank, Castle Crashers. The beat em up genre is probably the most visceral one of its kind. Its basic premises of move forward and kill everything in your path is not something you need to explain to most people. Wulverblade, however, tries to tie in all the gut-wrenching gore with some well-researched history. Does the combination work or does it fall flat on its face, let’s find out.
Wulverblade is a 2D side scrolling beat em up game developed by Fully Illustrated and published by Darkwind Media. The game has been released for the Nintendo Switch on the 12th of October 2017. While the game was released on the PC, Xbox One and PS4 on 30th January 2018.
Story & Narrative
Brawler games rarely have a story to speak of. It mostly involves a D.I.D. (Damsel In Distress) scenario, and I expected little more from Wulverblade. Dare I say I was proven wrong. History is a big part of the game, with most levels unlocking videos and/or notes on the research that has gone into the making of this game. The game features not only real locations but even popular figures from the time’s folklore (Various bosses are picked from Scottish folklore). Even sound samples have been taken from within the remains of old Roman forts (as mentioned on the Wulverblade site).
The game follows Caradoc, a Scottish warlord as he battles the 9th Legion of the Roman army and defends the north against the Roman annexations. Cunningly the devs have picked up a phase in the Roman history which allows them some artistic freedom when it comes to the sequence of events, yet the amount of hard work and the detail to attention caught my attention. So much so, that I was wanted to clear the level so that I could check out the latest unlocked Behind the Scene video. Of course, not everything is historically accurate but it ties up history and folklore beautifully and inspired me to look up 120 AD, Caradoc and the 9th Legion, so mission successful Fully Illustrated.
Ironically, having so much history also hurts the game in a twisted way. By the time the game ended I wanted more, I wanted to further explore the locations that were visible on the map but hadn’t featured in the campaign. I wanted to watch more research videos and read more notes, and I wanted to rip off Roman heads in the meantime.
Graphics & Sound
Wulverblade compliments this well-researched historical/fantasy tale with meticulously crafted artwork at 1080p to ensure that the final end result is an HD masterpiece that looks every bit as well as it plays. The artworks match the design style of the game itself, which is closer to Castle Crashers than it is to Final Fight.
The 8 levels too, alternate between forests, encampments, forts and even stone circles each one of them offering a new landscape as the players runs berserk through them. 2 levels especially stand out, one where you see your silhouette pass through a dense forest, and another where you have changed into your wolf form and run past a full moon. It’s aesthetically pleasing almost to the level that you forget you have been decapitating body parts for the majority of the game.
The music features a predictable mix of bagpipes and Scottish tunes, with random battle cries thrown in. In fact, its the in-game dialogues that stand out more than the background music itself, with all 3 playable characters and every boss equipped with a recognizable and believable accent.
Gameplay & Mechanics
With so much effort put into all the other sections of the game, Fully Illustrated played it safe when it came to the actual gameplay. Wulverblade is a standard 2D side-scrolling brawler, you control a character (out of the 3 available), and make your way across the screen mostly from right to left, killing everything in your way (apart from a sleeping Roman which if you spare, will earn you an achievement). The enemies come in from either side of the screen and are spread across the standard spectrum of melee, ranged and cavalry (quite literally in this case).
Through most of the game, you are limited to mixing up your attack, jump and block to kill the scores of enemies thrown at you. However, you can equip heavy weapons, which can then be combined with standard attacks, or even temporary standard weapons; both of which however have a duration before they expire. You can also pick up the dismembered body parts of your last victim and throw it your next one. Something which is viscerally satisfying and teenage funny (Once again the game rewards you with an achievement if you do that enough times). There is also a rage meter, which you can fill up and go berserk for a few seconds when you activate it and don’t take any damage while its active. Finally, you can also call upon a pack of wolves to help you out once every level, whenever you are feeling overwhelmed.
There is not a lot to go through mechanically in Wulverblade, which also means there are not a lot of holes in them either. The jump, the attack, the dodge all do what they should and combine smoothly with each other. Even boss battles rarely mix up the formula and whatever worked for you in the majority of the game, would most probably work for you in the boss battles as well.
Once you get a hang of them though and have finished the campaign on the difficulty of your choice, you can take the arcade mode out for a spin, which offers just 3 lives and 3 continues for the entire game, with no difficulty to choose from. Tougher but definitely do-able. There is also an Arena Mode where you can keep fighting waves upon waves of enemies until you die lapping up to the age-old thirst of setting a high score.
The game does not, however, encourage trying out different characters. I mean technically you could play the entire campaign thrice (once with each character, but there is no incentive to do so (not even a trophy). Plus the game supports a maximum of 2 players local co-op, which makes no sense on consoles when there is a maximum of 3 characters to choose from, and there is clearly enough place to add a 3rd playable character on screen. A clear side effect of supporting 2 player co-op on Switch which could not be extended to 3 when it came to other platforms.
All of these small tidbits would not have mattered if the game itself was longer. But the 8 levels finish too quickly (especially on the lower difficulty) and soon after you are left twiddling your thumb, thinking what you should try out next.
Wulverblade is a child of passion, that is clear from the very offset. The amount of research that has gone into the history, the amount of effort that has gone into the artwork, and the amount of creativity that has gone into trying it all up is immense and impressive. Though the short duration of the game does hurt it, Wulverblade is extremely enjoyable for some weekend jousting among friends.