Review: Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel [PC]

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The Gang’s All Here

The crossover – an idea in entertainment that brings a character or a group from a secondary piece of media (or multiple) into the primary one. It’s incredibly common, and we see it across all forms of entertainment. Whether it’s a simple cameo that acts as an easter egg, or the entire main premise, crossovers are a great way to try and attract a wider audience to your creation.

I know a ton of people who went to see the movie Chappie solely because it featured the members of the band Die Antwoord, in their band personas no less. Soulcalibur II became the first fighting game I ever played back on the GameCube, as the inclusion of Link from the Legend of Zelda series drew my curiosity.

Speaking of Soulcalibur II, the fighting game genre is a major breeding ground for crossover games. Many absolute classic fighter series use the crossover as their main premise – Marvel vs. Capcom, Capcom vs. SNK, Super Smash Bros, etc.

Of course, the key thing about a crossover is that the characters being included should be familiar to its audience. Capcom took a risk back at the turn of the decade when they brought Tatsunoko vs. Capcom across the Pacific, crossing Capcom characters with those from the Japanese animation company Tatsunoko Productions. While it was relatively successful, many questioned the viability of a game that heavily featured characters that were unfamiliar to the general American gaming public.

The game we are looking at today takes the same kind of risk: localizing a game featuring characters mostly unfamiliar to American audiences. The company Nitroplus is a fairly prolific publisher of visual novels in Japan, but the vast majority of their catalog remains Japan exclusive. However, that isn’t stopping their company’s fighting game crossover from heading westward.

Devloped by EXAMU and published in the west by XSeed Games, Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel was originally released on Februrary 2nd, 2016 for the PS3 and PS4. Today, though, we’ll be looking at the PC port, released on December 8th, 2016 via Steam.

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No Need for Words, Just Fists

In Nitroplus Blasterz, characters from various Nitroplus games suddenly find themselves together in a new world…so they begin fighting each other.

That’s the story, that’s a wrap, NEXT!

I wish I could say I was just trying to make a joke, but I’m not. That premise there is pretty much the entirety of the game’s story. There’s some other minor points like a dark power and evil cell phones, but the “plot” included overall is an absolute disappointment. It doesn’t even explain why all of these characters are brought together…they just are. Sure, fighting games aren’t exactly known for lengthy or well-thought out plots, but most at least put a bit of effort into explaining why all of these characters are beating the crap out of each other.

There is a secondary story mode unlocked after completing the first, aptly titled “Another Story.” This one does have a bit more effort put into it, presenting story in a visual novel format between battles. However, it also highlights the issue I mentioned in the beginning of this article – unfamiliar characters.

As said before, the cast of Nitroplus Blasterz is pulled from games that mostly haven’t seen English releases. Even amongst those that have, they’re largely taken from games that are niche, even within the anime-interested audience that this game targets. The most easily recognizeable (to the target audience) would have to be Saber, taken from the Fate series. Some may also easily recognize Homura from the Senran Kagura series.

Other than that, you’re diving into obscure English releases – Arcana Heart, receiving one English release from Atlus on the PS2; visual novels such as Song of Saya and Demonbane, released by JAST; and Phantom of Inferno, which only received a localized DVD game published by the short-lived Hirameki International.

Both story modes lean heavily on the plot points and personalities established in each of the character’s source materials, making what plot there is confusing and messy, unless you’re familiar with these niche releases…or have played the Japanese originals.

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Flying Gracefully

Of course, most who play fighting games aren’t doing so for the story. Once I got past my plot complaints and dove into the actual gameplay, I came out the other end rather impressed…that is, as a gamer who doesn’t really play fighting games.

Nitroplus Blasterz has some of your standard fighting game controls – weak, medium, and heavy attacks that can combo into each other, blocks and parrys, and various special attacks pulled off by using a rechargable energy bar. It’s the more unique mechanics, though, that made the game so much fun and addictive to play.

This is a game that has a strong focus on dodging and mobility. Most characters move rather slowly and methodically on the ground, but each has their own variety of dodging and air-dashing. Even some of the specials you can pull off are more focused on battlefield movement rather than attacking.

This created a bit of a learning curve for me, as I had to focus on learning each character’s mobility skills to use them effectively. As battles become more intense while working through the story, being able to dodge and maneuver quickly and accurately became a necessity, to the point where I spent more time moving around to line up a perfect attack than actually attacking.

Also, I’m unsure whether it was the controller I was using or just my lack of experience, but I had a difficult time pulling off many skills during battle. I played the game using a Steam Controller (which worked quite well after binding the keyboard controlls to it) and had trouble getting the game to recognize combo inputs. Even after a week with the game, using characters I’d become rather familiar with, getting the game to recognize a simple quarter-turn analog movement for a special attack was a shot in the dark.

Using a Steam Controller did help in some places, though. Having the controller’s grip buttons available as two extra inputs allowed me to assign two important normally multi-button actions to them. One of them is your standard grab and throw command, but the other is another unique system in Nitroplus Blasterz, called the “Variable Rush.”

Using this attack costs two charges on your energy bar (out of a possible three), and if it connects with your opponent, you can perform an instant combo attack simply by mashing buttons. Yes, it’s a mechanic that encourages button mashing, but it’s also a great way to turn the tide of battle…and relatively easy to block, making it a risky maneuver since it uses so much of your energy.

Lastly, I do have to say that I found this game surprisingly difficult. When playing through the story, the first two battles are easy, but for everything after that, you really need to have a grasp on how to control your selected character. The final battle is just ridiculous, involving a fight against a character that spams screen-filling attacks like they’re going out of style.

It was to the point where I was asking myself “Who the hell can win a battle like this?” Then, I loaded up the game’s online mode and proceded to get utter destroyed by everyone playing…turns out I’m just not very good at this game.

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Smooth as Silk

Fighting games demand fast and fluid animation due to their inherant nature, so I can thankfully say that Nitroplus Blasterz does not disappoint here. Character animations are quick and surprisingly detailed, even down to the little things like a short-skirted character holding their skirt down when they fall from the air. Each character even has multiple victory animations at the end of battle, which is a nice little addition.

The action on the screen can get extremely chaotic as well, with attack effects all over the place and support characters pulling off screen-filling strikes, but there was not a single moment of slowdown or framerate drop. What probably helps, though, is that the character and stage design isn’t all that detailed.

Most characters are drawn in various solid colors without too many details, and the stage backgrouds follow the same trend. While I didn’t mind this lack of detail on the characters, the dull backgrounds were disappointing to me. To be fair, the background isn’t really something that gets attention during battle, but a bit more effort would have been appreciated.

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Worst Kind of Remix

While the graphical presentation is pretty nice, the soundtrack isn’t quite as noteable. Much of the soundtrack consists of rock remixes of tracks from the games the characters are pulled from…which again, thanks to their relative obscurity in the west, means this will probably go over many gamers’ heads.

The problem is some of these source tracks are legitimately great, yet they get remixed into some of the most generic gaming music here. One of the source games, Song of Saya, is one that I’ve played through and I’m a fan of, and it has an excellent soundtrack. Hearing the original song – a peaceful yet haunting orchestral and vocal track – get changed into bland power rock here is a punch in the gut.

The game also includes voice acting during the story moments and pre-/post-battle, entirely in the original Japanese. There isn’t much of it, and I can’t really say any of the performances really stood out to me. Some were a bit grating, though – the character that became my go-to, Anna, has such an annoying performance that I usually just skipped all of her battle quips.

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Welcome to the Brawl

Overall, despite having the weakest plot of any game I’ve played this year, Nitroplus Blasterz was surprisingly a blast to play through…pun intended. Even with my lack of experience with the genre, I still had great fun pouring time into learning the characters and beating my face against the wall at some of the challenges.

From the view of a fighting game fledgling, this title has a sharp learning curve, but it’s nothing that’s insurmountable without a bit of practice. The final battles in the story mode are harshly brutal for someone of my caliber, though, and I don’t believe I’ll ever have the skill to compete in the online ranked circuit.

Despite my complaints about the plot and the soundtrack, the gameplay underneath is solid enough to overcome those issues. Despite knowing less than a quarter of the characters featured in this game, I came out the other end with some new favorites, and some games I’ve never heard of that I plan to look in to.

While I can’t speak for the fighting game specialists or professionals out there, for the general gaming public, Nitroplus Blasterz is definitely a title that’s worth a look.

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Review copy provided by XSeed Games. Screenshots taken by reviewer.