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Blazblue: Calamity Trigger was released back in the summer of 2009. It was the latest fighting game made by Arc System Works, the creators of the well received Guilty Gear games. As with all successful fighting games, Blazblue was due for an update which balances out performance, eliminates overpowered moves and addresses problems vocalized by the fan base. Blazblue: Continuum Shift accomplishes just that and takes the opportunity to reach out to those outside the usual demographic.
New characters include Hazama, a mysterious agent who fights and moves with the help of metal chain serpents, and Tsubaki, an angelic officer who can charge up her attacks and wields a sword and shield. Both characters add their own threads to the overall story arc and fit in well with the original roster. The final boss from the original Blazblue makes a comeback with a radically different play style and a new name—U-12(Mu), however, she needs to be unlocked before she becomes playable. It’s stunning to see how much thoughtfulness went into designing not only each individual fighter, but balancing them on a level playing field to make every fighter a viable option to pick. Not only have the characters been upgraded with new moves and higher resolution but the stages have been noticeably polished as well with more details and extra animations. The music and voice acting remain excellent. A great deal of time was put in to make sure that all dialogue sounds fluid and well articulated which is especially impressive when you consider the translation from Japanese to English.
Continuum Shift attempts to ease new players into the fray with a comprehensive and lengthy “Tutorial mode” that covers everything from movement to spacing to combo execution. Although the first few lessons are a tad redundant, many of the later advanced and intermediate lessons are worth soaking up for high-level play even if it feels like you have been listening to instructions for hours. The game is naturally unforgiving when it comes to entering combos and requires a precise form of execution which may turn some people off despite the effort made to ease people into the core concepts. After you’ve earned your degree in 2-D fighting you can improve your fighting skills is the “Challenge mode” which asks you to complete special moves and progressively more difficult combos with a specific fighter. This is an excellent way to either hone your fighter of choice or to quickly learn some of the other characters’ styles.
On the other end of the spectrum is Shift’s “Beginner mode” which can be selected at the start of each match. This mode greatly reduces the skill level required to win matches. The four face buttons are replaced by light, heavy, special and throw buttons. This allows for any player to execute virtually any move in the game with no more than two button presses. It’s a fun idea that ultimately gets in the way of learning how to play the right way. Given Shift’s new focus on teaching newcomers by offering a fully featured “Tutorial mode” at their disposal, “Beginner mode” acts more like a hindrance than practical instruction. Obviously selecting this mode will be banned in tournaments so why muddy the waters with this option in the first place?
The new “Legion mode” offers another single-player alternative to the “Arcade” and “Story” modes. You start by selecting your character and then challenge other groups of fighters on an interconnected web of nodes. Each node contains a varied amount of fighters; some with powered up “Unlimited” versions of characters. After defeating each fighter on a node, you get to draft one of the opponents to join your legion. Eventually you clear the web of enemy held nodes to win. It adds another dimension of strategy on an already tactical genre of game. It’s not horribly compelling and will most likely be ignored by players. Still, it is a new mode to try if you’ve exhausted everything else Shift has to offer.
The game is available at a value price of forty dollars. Despite all the new modes and characters, forty dollars still feels like a lot for what is essentially an updated version of a game released almost a year ago. When Capcom released Super Street Fighter IV for forty dollars, players were treated to character balancing as well as a plethora of new characters, costumes and stages. Aksys released additional color palettes and an additional character for purchase as DLC. There is no valid explanation for Aksys to withhold the extra content from the retail release other than to milk their fan base.
Continuum Shift is a wonderful fighting game that improves upon the original and encourages newcomers to give it a try. If you are a fighting game fan who has never tried Blazblue, then this is the perfect time to get caught up for just forty dollars. If you are a fan of Blazblue and have already purchased a copy of the original, then too bad; Continuum Shift is the most up-to-date version and will replace the original in any sanctioned tournament play. With the technology to update games via a patch or DLC, releasing a retail disc seems like an antiquated way of updating fighting games. Hopefully this trend will change or maybe game companies will learn to release forty dollars worth of new content on a retail disc.