Demo Driver 8: Blade Kitten (#353)

I expected what I got, in large part, but worse.

It’s nice when something turns out better than you had any expectations it would be, definitely.

While I like Steam’s integration of Metacritic into its client, sometimes that can sort of send up red flags right away.  Blade Kitten‘s aggregate score of 52 certainly didn’t do it any favors.  But that’s the most straightforward part here.

Blade Kitten is a side-scrolling platformer based off of a comic… or it’s a platformer that also has a comic… or some combination thereof.  I’m not clear on the exact timeline.  What I am clear on is that Krome Studios employed the artist as creative director, launched the game with Atari, then got caught up in Atari’s slow-motion self-destruction and had to wait for a long while to get the rights back for the game, which apparently kind of killed the comic, too?  There hasn’t been an update there since 2012.

All that backstory aside, the game is now back in the hands of Krome Studios, but with a dismal review score.  Is it any good?  Does it deserve that score?  What did it do to garner such vigorous fans other than having a pink-haired catgirl as the main character?  Actually, the last one might answer its own question.

I wouldn't call this progressive, but it's not the throwback you'd think from the title.

Yeah, you can tell who this was made for, but it’s not being obnoxious or pandering about this.

Starting up the game flings you right into the story with minimum explanation.  Kit Ballard, the edged feline of the title, shows up on the planet Hollow Wish, promptly has a glowstick MacGuffin taken from her, and then has her spaceship blown up.  So she starts chasing after the woman who took it from her, which means cutting her way through a whole lot of mooks without much concern for the results of cutting through duly-appointed security officers.  Rightaway you can get a sense of the kind of game it’s going to be, with buxom ladies trading barbs and chasing one another.

To the immediate credit of the game, it looks nice.  It sounds good, too, in the voice department.  Kit herself spends the most time speaking, and her actress does a decent job of handling her lines; the main weakness is that the writing just isn’t very good.  There’s not much weight to the story, really, and the dialogue is wooden, but it’s delivered as well as you could expect.  Think mid-90s dubbed anime and you’ll be about on the money.  People don’t actually talk like that.

Actually, “mid-90s anime” pretty well describes the level the game is aiming at in general.

Once you’re finished with the story dump, it’s time to start playing.  The game is an action platformer with 3D graphics on a 2D plane; you can see stuff in the background, but can’t interact with it.  The graphics are crisply designed enough, however, that this doesn’t become an issue; it’s obvious what’s in the background, foreground objects are cut away so as not to obscure what’s going on around them, and you never find yourself asking if you can make a jump or not.  Move forward, hack at things with Kit’s independently flying sword, climb walls, double-jump.  It’s all pretty standard stuff.

Kit’s controls are generally nice and responsive; the jumps can get a bit floaty for “definite landing” spots, and the wall-climbing sometimes is oddly drifty, but for the most part it’s not hard to make her move as you wish.  Which is a good thing, since moving around and exploring is half of the game; the other half, predictably, is slashing the hell out of things.

That’s a bit more problematic.

Here’s one of the core problems with the game; the enemies don’t take a lot of strategy to take down.  One of two things happened – either I got the drop on the enemies and could slash them down quickly, or they got the drop and I could easily get locked into a cycle of hurting.  Kit’s recovery animation takes a while, and it firmly plants her feet on the ground while it’s happening.  You have the option to guard, but it prevents you from jumping.  In short, it’s easy to get shot, then get stuck getting shot over and over or guarding without being able to clear your enemies.  I also ran into some irritating loops wherein I’d swing forward, the enemy would block and counter in seconds, and then shoot me into hit stun… at which point coming out of hit stun led to the exact same sequence playing out again.

The shouting in setting-appropriate slang is a nice touch.

Well, that’s what you get when you go to Mook Academy.

That having been said, Kit has a few tricks up her sleeve, including a death-from-above attack that can help clear out packs quickly and makes up for some of the imbalance.  She also has slashes in multiple directions, regenerating health, and enough potential movements that you aren’t helpless unless you get into an unlucky cycle of pain.  There were a few points that I found myself irritated by, but it was a low-grade irritation, more “oh, come on, this is ridiculous” than “this entire game is completely broken.”

If the story feels like mid-90s anime, the game itself feels like some of the earlier SNES platformers.  It’s big, it’s sprawling, and it features a lot of sections in which you’re supposed to just amble about collecting money to spend on upgrades.  Obviously, the demo doesn’t let you explore all of this, but Kit has a variety of additional costumes, powerups, and so forth; everything you’d expect from a more modern game.  But nothing that really makes it stand out in its field, either.

Here’s the thing, though – it’s fun.  Not something I would shout to the rooftops as being the next great thing, not one of the best games I’ve ever played, but it’s still fun.  Kit herself is likable and fun and avoids being a constant feed of cheesecake, the mechanics are solid enough, there’s plenty to do, and the lack of polish didn’t wind up bothering me enough to roll my eyes.  At $6, it’s a meaty platformer with some weaknesses but enough strengths to compensate.

I can see why the game got the review scores it did – apparently the controls were a fair bit looser on the original release, and it’s definitely not breaking new ground.  But it’s solid for what it is, and it deserves a better reputation than it has.  I’d recommend giving the demo a go if you like platforming action titles, even if that score turned you off; hopefully the team behind the game can give it a solid second hurrah after all.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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