Games Review: Wulverblade (Switch, 2018): Angry Scots take over the arcade

Those who grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s will remember the heady days of the video game arcade. Magical places full of light and noise and games you couldn’t play anywhere else. Going to the movies meant visiting the arcade next door, and I would beeline for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cabinetStreets of Rage-style side scrolling beat-em-ups were easy fodder for arcades back in the day — beating up the regular enemies with your friends was really satisfying and fun, and then they’d hit you with a boss that was bone-crushingly difficult. Designers did this on purpose — you’d all get wiped and have to throw another $2 coin at the game to carry on. Wulverblade continues this arcade tradition with an historical bent.

Wulverblade is a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up by developer Fully Animated. True to their name, Wulverblade features some of the most gorgeously rendered 2D artwork for a game I’ve seen in quite some time. The game’s presentation gives the impression of a particularly gory cartoon about highland warrior Caradoc and the Northern Tribes of Britannia, rising up against Roman occupation in 120 CE.

Each level of the game’s campaign mode sees Caradoc and his angry, bloody, shouty friends storming through Roman-occupied areas, pushing back against the invasion force. Thee combat is solid, simple and enjoyable in the same way arcade brawlers of the past have always been. Where those games would frequently drop weapons for you to grab and use, Wulverblade goes the extra mile, adding not just weapons but the severed heads and limbs of downed enemies which can be picked up and hurled at incoming forces.

Moving forward is relatively simple — you have regular attacks, jumping attacks and special moves to help you slaughter your foes and a roll move that keeps you moving around quicker enemies. If I have a complaint about the controls, its only that the roll feels harder to pull of than it should. Double-tapping the X button to roll feels like an unnecessary extra step for a move that’s designed to get me out of trouble quickly. It also feels like there’s a short delay on the roll animation actually beginning so by the time I start rolling, I’m usually already getting owned.

Wulverblade is also unafraid to throw arcade-level, soul-destroyingly difficult boss fights at you. Each boss has an amount of health that appears to be nearly infinite on first inspection and every attack they land on you is devastating. The boss fights were where the clunky roll mechanic really starting grinding my gears because not only do they hit hard, they also tend to move quickly and have attacks that have a wide area of effect. Being able to dodge would be a blessing but the roll is so sluggish that I’d frequently get caught up in them anyway.

Wulverblade is at its best when played with friends, easily achievable on a system like the Switch with its pair of Joy-Cons. Every time we were crushed by a boss and were made to retackle a level, we would discover some new trick or more efficient murder methodology that would shave seconds off our time. Discovering how powerful the game’s jump attacks were was revelatory — the Jump Meta, as it became known. Realising that we could use the jump attacks to push enemy soldiers backwards, impaling them on spiked wooden battlements was a moment of profound beauty. There’s so many of these moments strewn throughout the game because Wulverblade is happy to teach you the basics and then let you figure the rest out as you go.

There’s a wide array of  modes for those who battle their way through the campaign and find themselves wanting more, most of which lean into the game’s arcade heritage with score and time attack modes. These modes may be for you, but for me the game was at its best with friends that don’t mind a challenge. It’s an arcade throwback that does an awful of lot of things right, perfectly capturing the stresses of the arcade brawler with a modern coat of paint. Recommended.

Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Wonderful animation and presentation; Historical approach highly original; Genuinely inventive
Lowlights: That roll needs work tho
Developer: Fully Animated
Publisher: Fully Animated
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC
Available: Now

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a retail code provided by the publisher.