Anyone reading this review is familiar with the powerful way video games entertain us. But the medium is capable of much more, and the educational aspect of Wulverblade, a newly released indie title from developer Fully Illustrated, highlights this potential. Scattered throughout the levels of this beat-em-up throwback are a number of historical artifacts that, when acquired, provide a blurb of information to the player. These well-written and informative nuggets of knowledge cover Roman history, and although this emphasis on a fiction paralleling reality is Wulverblade's most valid claim to uniqueness, the remaining package is a genuinely good addition to the Switch's flourishing indie library.
Wulverblade is a faithful retread of the side-scrollers of yesteryear. Combat is basic enough to remain accessible but still has the nuance so that improvement is a viable endeavor. When this game first surfaced, I saw some parallels drawn between it and Castle Crashers. Wulverblade, however, is a distinct offering and strays clear from familiar RPG traits. Whether this is a good thing depends on the player but, personally, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of stat-based incentives and character progression. Wulverblade strictly harkens back to the arcade games that inspired it, and won't scratch the itch of those looking for an evolution of the genre.
The game offers two primary game modes: story and arena. Arena is a wave-based survival mode that tasks the player with overcoming hordes of enemies who continually grow in difficulty. While the arena inherently lends itself to leaderboard-based competition, it also serves as practice for players to refine their combat skills. Wulverblade's story mode is relatively unforgiving, and even slight errors in input have catastrophic results that accumulate quickly. But mastery of its simple control scheme is rewarding; tearing through a horde of enemies unscathed is a cathartic experience, especially if the same crew was responsible for your death earlier.
The experience is marred by clunkiness. An enormous amount of the character's actions are assigned to a single button, which makes the hectic battlefield a nuisance on occasion. The button used to attack is the same used to pick up objects—a baffling design choice. This cost me health on more than one occasion, and in a game where mistakes are so damning, this frustration often dampened the experience.
Otherwise, the game plays much like one would expect, given the genre. There are three playable characters that fulfill a speed, power, and balance trifecta, and every once in awhile the player will encounter different weapons to use for brief stints. The boss battles are fun, if not slightly redundant and similar, and the challenge is addictive.
Particularly daring players can play a classic mode where only three lives are given to the player. While I don’t know how anyone could have the skill to survive under these circumstances, it is an awesome addition that caters to the hardcore audience that Wulverblade will likely attract.
Visually, it's a living comic book. Characters and environments fluidly interact and produce a gripping 2D atmosphere. Extra touches, like wolf silhouettes passing through the foreground, are icing on the visual cake. Sound design is good throughout, and the tunes are fitting, if forgettable.
Despite some frustrations, I had a great time playing Wulverblade even though I'm not part of the game's target audience. The game largely accomplishes what it intends to, and those looking for a beat-em-up on the Switch will likely find themselves satisfied by this virtual romp through historical fiction.
GameLuster was provided a game code for the purposes of this review.