In between toiling away on the chronically wasted opportunity that became Microsoft’s Game Room, Krome Studios have also been working on Blade Kitten, their Anime inspired platformer for PSN and XBLA.
Following the adventures of bounty hunter Kit Ballard, the player must traverse the wistfully named world of Hollow Wish, using a mixture of platforming and hacking / slashing of enemies. If that plot seems a bit perfunctory or fast and loose, then that’s because it’s intended to be. Blade Kitten makes no bones about expecting the player to be on-board with its style and the mini-universe they’ve created with the online comics, before they even pick up the pad.
If there was a single phrase to sum up Blade Kitten’s style it would be `Bubblegum`. The character designs, conforming to the typical Anime conventions of big eyes and bright hair, are still relatively unique in terms of bring incorporated into the final visual style of a game. Coupled with the music, which captures the hyper-kinetic approach of countless Anime serials, the game’s bubbly nature means it’s difficult not to take an instant shine to it. Which is good, because you’ll need something to cling on to in order to dull the intense anguish of what lies below the surface.
Despite supposedly being a nimble anthropomorphic cat…type…er…thing, Kit actually controls more like a dog. Or rather, a dog with has just one, freakishly huge leg that causes it to keep knocking over your expensive knick-knacks and smashing you repeatedly in the shins. Accordingly you’re never quite sure whether to be angry at it, or just feel sorry for it.
She’s so sluggish and awkward that even when you get to grips with the controls, it still feels like you’re in charge of something with the turning circle of a supertanker surrounded by a chain of Greenpeace protesters. Aside from basic movement, even climbing can feel like a sticky hit and miss chore and it’s pretty unforgivable for a platforming title to alienate its players in this manner. The problems don’t end there either, since the polish appears to be missing from quite a few aspects.
The level design is non-existent in a way that leads you to conclude they were somewhat thrown together. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the way they flow – if you can master the fiddly nature of the controls you’ll find that one minute you’ll be going up, then you’ll be coming right down the other side of whatever it was you just scaled. Then you’ll be going in front or behind a section you went through a moment before. It’s confusing and isn’t helped by how bland it all feels.
You get the impression that the game is trying to ape the design of titles like Metroid, or even the more recent outings like Shadow Complex, but it doesn’t work because the rudimentary design principles behind those titles seems have been just out of reach for Blade Kittens creators. This isn’t helped by the uninteresting landscapes, unless your cup of tea is watching some random things doing some random things. While you could argue that they’re quite lengthy, the samey appearance of the levels makes them feel like they just run on and on. Later ones do offer a better sense of scale, but by then the player will probably feel too numb to notice.
The issue with the level layout is made all the more hideous when the game passes objects in front of the players vision and then, because they somehow felt you would be infuriated by being unable to see the complete lack of anything interesting going on behind that tiny sliver of scenery, the game dissects the foreground object with a huge yellow slice. It’s so obtrusive that it would actually have been less distracting to have the game flash up an image of a brightly painted naked man doing a dance every time it happened.
The other important aspect of the game, the combat, doesn’t fair much better because it feels turgid. To defeat enemies Kat relies on her gratuitously large sword, which inexplicably floats a few meters in front of her (seemingly for no other reason than they couldn’t be bothered to model her holding it). The player is given light and heavy attacks to use, but in practice this is a horrible mess which never manages to feel like you’re actually connecting with anything. In fact, for the vast majority of the time, the easier option is to just try and steam through the level as quickly as possible whilst avoiding all enemies, rather than subjecting yourself to the extra effort of bothering to try and hit anything.
To top all this off, Blade Kitten also features some hefty eye rolling moments, caused by its instance on using `witty` dialogue based around the clichés of `OMG`, `Epic Fail` and other tired l33t speak. It makes the game feel like the digital equivalent of being stuck in a lift with an overbearing nerd who keeps nudging you and commenting “Us gamers aye! Aren’t we just fupping brilliant!?” in the vain attempt to connect with you and hope you’ll be its friend.
As appealing as the Anime-styled, heroine-led antics of Blade Kitten might have seemed in the design stage, their implementation makes it play like an 80’s train wreck of a game. The problems manage to successfully smother the underlying aesthetics, which is a shame because they were actually on to something and there are moments where the title’s style shows brief glimpses of real promise. But it’s telling that there are simpler Flash titles out there which actually put this game to shame, with the added bonus that they’re actually available for free. The fact that Atari / Krome Studios are currently trying to charge you 1200 Points / £9.99 for the privilege of `playing` Blade Kitten, makes it feel more akin to daylight robbery.
This is one title which should only be used in the same sentence as the word `recommend` if it’s very closely followed by `you avoid`.