Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel – review

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The title is confusing (this is the norm for animé or animé-styled beat ’em ups), but less so when you realise that a) Nitroplus is a company linked to various manga, animé and games, and b) this game exclusively takes female characters from various Nitroplus universes, and brings them together in a beat ’em up crossover. The final result rises above what you might expect in some areas… and very much fails to do so in others.

Let’s get the icky stuff out of the way first. The idea of an all-female animé game may set off alarm bells in the heads of some and, well… that wouldn’t be entirely without reason. There’s no nudity, no bouncing boobs (not during gameplay, anyway) and, in fact, this game sexualises its characters less often and less intensely than many comparable games. There are however a few embarrassing illustrations you wouldn’t want to be caught looking at out of context and – this is where the real problem in this respect is – there are a few cringe-inducing, distinctly uncomfortable, and arguably unnecessary lines in there.

Though fully voice-acted, dialogue is Japanese only, so most people will rely on the subtitles present in the visual novel storytelling. Each character has their own storyline in the main story (vague and incoherent), and completing this with just one fighter unlocks ‘Another Story’ (detailed and incoherent). Given the wealth of storytelling and lack of English voiceovers, you’d think that more care would have been taken with the text. It does the job perfectly well but, quite aside from the narrative gaps that need filling in, there’s enough baffling grammar abuse (and the occasional typo) to make you now and again stop to say “Wait, what?”.

Still, it’s refreshingly easy to look past the dubious allusions to sex and the iffily-told story. The meat and bones of the game – the actual fighting – is very good. The control system is similar to something like BlazBlue, using as it does three main attack buttons supported by a fourth, and super-strong attacks that feed from a gauge filled by dealing and receiving damage. What immediately distinguishes this from the hordes of other fighters out there is the deceptively simple addition and implementation of the dodge button. In pretty much any beat ’em up released nowadays, it’s possible to evade almost any attack, or even a throw attempt; so long as you know what you’re doing. Knowing what you’re doing, though, often involves several different tactics within the same game which rely on different sets of conditions. Here, though, simply tapping the dodge button in conjunction with the direction you want to go will ordinarily do the trick. It’s a fantastic playing-ground leveller that, to an extent, even allows newbies half a chance online against old hands.

Characters are pleasingly distinct not only in appearance but also in abilities, meaning you’ll have no trouble picking out favourites. There is, to our eyes at least, no such thing as a ‘bad’ or overpowered character here, either; so bonus points for that. Mind you, anything less would be unacceptable. There are 33 characters here, but only 12 are actually playable. The story mode boss, a character created for this game, is CPU only. Two others only unlock on the character select screen if you buy the DLC; though, admittedly, this is free for the first month of release. The other 21 are reduced to support characters (essentially recharging special moves). That’s not a huge bounty of fighters by today’s standards. The distribution can seem a little odd, too; while the likes of Saber from Fate/Zero and Super Sonico (Nitroplus mascot) are playable, you can’t jump into the shoes of, say, Akane from Psycho Pass.

Perhaps this is partly down to time or budget constraints, as the game seems bare-bones in some respects. Not just the lack of English audio; although there is a mode identified as ‘Training’, this is in fact just you against a docile CPU opponent – and that’s it. No lessons on how to use or understand the fighting system, or even what things such as Infinite Blasts and Variable Rushes are (let alone how to use them). You can pause the game for a list of command inputs for your character’s special moves, but apart from that you’re on your own.

Don’t ask what’s going on here, just… just go with it.

There is of course an online mode, with both ranked and unranked matches. Each match we played was smooth as silk throughout, no complaints there. Bizarrely, though, ranked matches ask you to choose things such as your character and Support partners before you even search for a room. Again, the game makes no attempt to explain the hows and whys of this process. What we’re wondering is how Lethal Blazes – the super moves activated with a full gauge – will impact online matches when servers are busier and a greater variety of opponents is available. If not blocked or avoided (it’s extremely difficult to do either), one of these attacks will do gargantuan damage, thereby almost guaranteeing to end the round.

The core of Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel is a solid, enjoyable, greatly accessible beat ’em up that still retains some depth. Rendering roughly two thirds of the cast list unplayable seems a huge waste though; and the game is missing modes, features, and an overall level of detail that we’ve come to expect in modern beat ’em ups. It’s a good game, but the less you know of the relevant franchises the less you’ll get out of it.

critical score 7

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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