It’s always good when a game comes along that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Wonder Blade is one such game. It’s a pretty straightforward, daft adventure which at first glance reminded me somewhat of Shovel Knight. However, the similarities are purely cosmetic, as what’s on offer here is something quite different.
You start off taking part in a competition to win the rather presumptuous prize of marrying the King’s daughter. However, after some sparring (this segment effectively teaches you how the combat works) a huge stone golem turns up to crash the party. Seemingly under the control of an evil knight, he snatches the princess and makes a run for it.
Wonder Blade is a side scrolling slash ’em up, where you can move horizontally and vertically (to a degree) along your plane. You’ll need to fight your way through each area, until you see the flashing hand of progress appear which points at the way forward (in the same fashion as Streets of Rage and Final Fight).
You start off equipped with a sword and will need to hack and slash your way through the enemies (of which there are numerous) to catch up to the baddies and rescue the princess. You can attack, jump and roll dodge, all whilst moving side to side and up and down the stage. You also have access to a secondary, more powerful attack. This has three variants which you will unlock as you play.
However, the combat is at its most delightful when you are given the opportunity to “execute” your enemies. These are over the top, gruesome instant kills that vary, but are always entertaining to watch. It’s quite a juxtaposition to the cartoonish visuals and upbeat, lively backing music. I was caught somewhat off guard by just how brutal these were the first time around.
You can also string together some pretty impressive combos. It’s possible to not let your enemy touch the ground as you slash away at them, if you get it right. You will encounter bosses and mini-bosses too, where you will need to alter your fighting patterns to beat them. The rewards are grand, taking the form of treasure chests which are bursting with loot. Overall the combat is simple, but works well for the most part. The only niggle is that some enemies (the green blobs spring to mind) can repeatedly attack you, knocking you down, before you can break away to retaliate. It can feel a little unfair, and gets frustrating at times.
Vanquished enemies will drop loot (mainly coins and food which replenishes health) as you slice them up. Coins can be spent with the potty mouthed merchant and pops up after every few levels. Your energy bar depletes when you use your secondary attack, and will take time to fill back up. Stringing together successful combos will refill it more quickly, but if you take a single hit it will break your chain.
The HUD shows your level and XP meter. This fills as you play, and you earn points for levelling up which you can use to upgrade your attributes, by heading back to the character menu. You can upgrade core stats, including the chance to land critical hits on your enemies. You will also learn new moves when you hit certain levels, such as the spin attack and aerial attack, which come in very useful indeed. Not only this, but as you fight you’ll fill your super attack meter (represented by a glowing orb), which when unleashed will devastate pretty much anything in your way. It takes a while to “charge” it, if you like, so choose when to use it wisely.
Different character outfits can be unlocked as you level up, and each has their own unique benefit to boot. However, executing an enemy whilst dressed as a block of cheese sums Wonder Blade up better than words ever could. It’s brilliantly ludicrous.
To be clear, there is a lot of hacking and slashing to be done in Wonder Blade. Too much, you might say, as at times it borders on repetitive. However, there is some variety in the form of on rails segments that mix up the action. Whether it’s riding a pig, or flinging barrels off the back of a horse-drawn cart, these passages of play are a welcome distraction from the hacking and slashing. Overall there are eleven levels to battle through, which take place across the world and are all themed differently. In between, there are also challenge levels to try your hand at, one of which is very reminiscent of Street Fighter II…
The difficulty curve in Wonder Blade is anything but smooth. The levels themselves are pretty easy, and can be mundane at times with seemingly endless enemies spawning before you’re able to move to the next area. However, when you come up against a boss, the situation completely flips on its head. These are tough encounters. You need to be good at dodging, as well as being very patient. All the boss characters have chunky health bars to chip away at, and the window of opportunity is small. You’ll most likely need some items from the merchant in reserve to survive most of these encounters.
Wonder Blade on Xbox is inconsistently fun. The wildly contrasting difficulty and bumpy pacing makes the experience feel slightly disjointed, however it’s all wrapped up in a way that will no doubt bring a smile to the most miserable of faces.