Beat 'em Ups have existed in gaming since either the mid 70s with Sega's Heavyweight Champ or mid 80s with Data East's Kung Fu Master, depending on what you qualify as the first true Beat 'em Up , and have continued to be a staple of the gaming scene right up until the present day. Wonder Blade, made by one man team Puppet Depot Game Studio and published by East2west Games, is not only another excellent entry into the genre, but is itself a love letter to that genre and video games as a whole, filled with story segments, game mechanics, and visual references intended to honor the games that came before it.
The plot of Wonder Blade is deliberately absurdly simple. You are a swordsman participating in a tournament to win the hand of a princess when an evil dark Knight attacks the kingdom and kidnaps the princess. It's up to you to trek far and wide and beat up everything in your way to get the princess back and stop whatever it is the villain is up to. From the first stage alone you will be introduced to a lot of the variety the game might throw at you, with two standard scrolling segments, an elevator segment, a 2D segment where you can only move left and right and jump, and finally a chase level where you ride a frightened pig to escape an enraged golem and must avoid obstacles and attacks while trying to grab as much money as you possible can.
And that's just the first stage. Subsequent stages see you slide down a snowy mountain, ride dinosaurs and mech suits to crush waves of foes, run to escape a crushing wall in a tomb full of zombies, fight a giant octopus on a ship as it pitches and yaws, then swim underwater in a level that is to classic Shoot 'em Ups as the rest of the game is to Beat 'em Ups. There are even bonus levels at the end of several stages that are explicitly recreations of the car smashing and barrel busting bonus levels in early Street Fighter and Final Fight games.
So there's a lot of stage variety in the game, but, how is the combat in Wonder Blade? Oh so satisfying. Despite starting with just a basic sword and some finishing moves, your unnamed main character quickly gains levels, equipment, and artifacts to improve his abilities. As you defeat enemies, they will sometimes drop their weapons, which you can pick up mid fight to improve (or hinder) your combat prowess. Each weapon has its own stats in addition to its look, and some weapons are just downright terrible. You will also always get a new weapon the first time you defeat one of the games many bosses (all of whom die with a satisfying K.O. cut in and sound effect reminiscent of Street Fighter), along with a new character skin and a lot of in game gold to buy even more weapons, skins, health potions, revival herbs, and even pets which give their own stat boosts to your hero. The weapons and skins are a bevy of references by the way. You can wear a "Pyramid Head" costume and wield a lightsaber, or be the Statue of Liberty fighting with a Keyblade, and more weapons and skins are promised to be added for free soon.
Of course, the there's more to your character than equipment. As you level, you get stat and skill points to invest into your abilities to let you hit harder and cast spells more efficiently. If I'm honest, it took me longer than I'd like to admit to realize the skills screen existed, which definitely made my playthrough harder than it needed to be. Fortunately, there's no penalty for dying apart from having to restart a level from the start of your current segment, and you can always exit out of a level, change your equipment, assign stat and skill points, and jump back in at the start of a scene.
Now, one thing to note is that Wonder Blade is not finished. Not in the sense that it's an unfinished buggy alpha, though there are some bugs here and there (one such bug spawned a copy of my currently equipped weapon every time I swung it, though had no other effects) but in the sense that there are additional levels yet to be added. However, what currently is in the game is amazingly fun and new levels are going to be free when they release. So if you're alright with not saving the princess and just enjoying the 11 levels already in the game, Wonder Blade is absolutely an amazing game to just have a ton of fun with at your own pace.
This review was based off a code provided by the publisher.