MEGATech Reviews: Wulverblade (Steam)
If you were a fan of side-scrolling beat 'em ups from the 90s, you'll find a lot of button mashing love with Wulverblade. It's got a surprising level of depth for a title of this kind.
  • Button mashing elevated
  • Terrific storytelling
  • Striking visual style
  • No online multiplayer
  • Still "just" a side scroller
  • No button remapping
8.5Overall Score

Maybe I really am a product of my environment. As a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I spent untold hours (and quarters) at the local arcades. As much as I enjoyed playing on my Atari, NES, Game Boy and SNES, there was something special about going to the arcade. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why side-scrollers and fighting games are my two favorite video games genres to this day. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why I enjoyed Wulverblade on Steam so much.

Historic Hacking and Slashing

The basic formula here is going to be a familiar one for a lot of us who grew up in the arcades (and consoles) of the 80s and 90s. Did you ever play the X-Men arcade game? How about Double Dragon, Final Fight, or TMNT: Turtles in Time? For the most part, these games had the same fundamental control scheme. You’d go from left to right, mashing on the attack button to bludgeon your foes and hitting the jump button for added theatrics. Maybe there’d be a magic button or you maybe you’d hit attack and jump at the same time for a special move.

In many ways, Wulverblade borrows much inspiration from this strong heritage of side-scrolling beat-em-ups. Generally speaking, you go from left and right, beating up on NPCs until you eventually reach a stage boss. But there’s more to it here. For starters, there’s a block button, something that was certainly unheard of for 90s side-scrollers. You also get a “strong” attack when you pick up one of the heavier weapons. And by strategically mashing between light and strong, you can extend your combos accordingly.

Oh and there’s decapitation. And dismemberment. And blood. So much blood. It’s great.

There’s a little bit of “based on a true story” historic context here. Wulverblade takes place hundreds of years ago around 120 AD when Rome came to invade Britannia (modern day Great Britain). You take on the role of the northern tribes (precursors to modern day Scots, I guess… I’m no history buff) as you fight off Romans, as well as “southerners” who have allied themselves with the Romans.

At its most basic level, Wulverblade delivers that familiar hack and slack experience. Look a little further, though, and you’ll uncover added layers of depth. For instance, as mentioned, you can pick up heavy weapons (like that big bloody hammer) to dish out bigger damage, extending combos against your enemies. If you hold the block button and double tap forward or back, you’ll perform an evasive roll. Build up enough of that blue meter and you call upon a pack of wolves.

The Wulverblade Family

As can be expected, Wulverblade leverages familiar conventions in this genre. For example, you get to choose between three different characters, each of whom take on the typical archetype.

You’ve got the bigger, stronger guy who’s slower to move around; you’ve got the faster, more agile character whose attacks are generally less powerful; and then you’ve got the balanced character that’s middle of the road across the board. We’ve seen these archetypes in so many games before, like Golden Axe and even in Mario Kart.

There is local multiplayer on the PC version (I’m sure the console versions have it too), but I found that I could not have one player on the keyboard and one player on a gamepad. The only way I got local multiplayer to work properly was with two USB controllers. Sadly, online multiplayer has been left out of the equation.

On the bright side, you do get to pick between a modern gameplay style with save points and an arcade mode with the standard three lives, three continues dynamic. I’m a bit of a purist at heart, so I mostly played through the arcade mode.

As mentioned, the core control scheme is relatively straightforward with attack and jump, but you can (and should) elevate your game by utilizing the other buttons and combinations, like performing an uppercut (for glorious decapitations) or a “knock back” to push back groups of enemy fighters.

The ground slam, where you jump into the air and come raining down with an attack, is great for finishing off downed enemies. Developers Fully Illustrated and Darkwind Media did not shy away from the gratuitous violence here. Upon occasion, you’ll have an opportunity to perform an “execution,” which could involve mounting your downed enemy UFC style to pound their face into the dirt. It’s brutally satisfying and brilliantly bloody.

While I never really felt the need to do so, it is unfortunate that I could not remap any of my controls. I expect this in pure “retro” experiences like on the NES and SNES Classic, but not in a modern game.

They Will Never Take Our Freedom!

When it came to most of the side-scrolling action games that I played in my youth, I never really cared about the story. What was happening behind the narrative of Sunset Riders or Cadillacs and Dinosaurs didn’t really matter to me. Perhaps for this reason, I can really appreciate what they’ve done here with Wulverblade, putting all the action into context.

The animated cut scenes really do add value to this game, making it fun to learn about history. In fact, you can even dive into the extra modes to read further into the stories surrounding the Roman invasion of Britannia.

And check out this map. This totally has a Westeros kind of feel to it, don’t you think? Something that I found a little curious is that as you navigate from stage to stage, you actually move a cursor around the screen rather than simply hopping to the pre-defined points. This allows you to access the location videos and historical notes, should you feel so inclined.

MEGATechie Beautiful Brutality or MEGATechie Rough Cut?

It’s so incredibly easy to dismiss a game like this as nothing more than a cheap reimagining of a bygone era. And you’d seriously be missing out if you did dismiss this. They’ve done a terrific job of taking familiar elements and archetypes, and placing them in a more modern package with complete storytelling and added layers of gameplay complexity.

The elevated levels of blood and gore might be an “easy” ploy to pull gamers in, but it works in this context and makes playing this game that much more satisfying. The visuals are truly striking with a sharp, cel-shaded like design and there’s enough variety to keep you interested for quite some time. I wish there was a little more room to move around and online multiplayer would have been great, but where else can you throw decapitated heads back at your enemies while entering a “rage” mode for an unfettered barrage of awesome? It’s visceral, nostalgic, and surprisingly addictive.

Wulverblade is available now for $14.99 through the Steam Store. It’s also available for the same price on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and inexplicably for $5 more on the Nintendo Switch through the eShop.

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