Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel (PS4)

I've seen anime fighters come, and go along with their interesting mechanics, their unusual character rosters, and their flashy special effects. I've seen most of them turn into virtual ghost towns that only dedicated Japanese gamers bother playing as well. I've even seen some of them do fairly better than others. The Guilty Gear, and Blazblue series comes to mind in regards to that latter remark. When it comes to XSEED's, and Marvelous' anime crossover, "Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel" I think the game lands somewhere in the middle of the mark. It's neither great, nor is it a huge disaster. I think this forty dollar fighter has something catchy, but at the same time feel that the asking price is a bit too steep even though it is on new-gen hardware. What you have to understand is that the developer went all out to make the game flashy, attractive, and functional in a fighting game sense but failed to offer the gamer some essentials that have become a must for fighting game fans. Sure it looks nice from the cover image to the main menus, and even the gameplay, but where it really counts it struggles a bit to captivate a genre veteran such as myself.

When it comes to being a quality fighting game there are a couple of things that must be taken into consideration. Those two things are the offline, and online offerings. Believe it or not, but the online in fighting games is just as important as the offline, and visa versa. Sadly, developers often times fail to understand in creating these competitive experiences that not everyone has friends willing to do the couch co-op thing. They also fail to understand that there are some of us not willing to pay the piper in order to travel to tournaments to get our fighting game fix in. The offline simply satisfies the hunger slightly for some of us before it becomes a repetitive experience not worth returning to.

In the case of Nitroplus the game offers the basics in the way of offline offerings, and doesn't even hardly try to make the online modes of play the inviting experiences that they should be. In the offline, for example you'll find story driven battles in the way of two different story modes as well as a training mode, and a score attack mode. The plot portion of the game includes a "Story" mode, and "Another Story" mode. The story mode is your basic series of sequential battles, or duels against 7 of the roster's anime centered characters, and a final boss battle that is so ridiculous that it's aggravating to a point. The alternate story mode known as, "Another Story" plays out a lot like Blazblue's base story mode. In it you'll read through tons of text while viewing character related art panels which coincide with the events that are taking place. Of course there's also the occasional fight when characters converse as well.

It's a given that Nitroplus's story is interesting, and that it will draw you in for a short while via both story modes, but once that's over you'll be left with only a handful of offline options that pale in comparison to some of those given in most modern day fighters. Among these extra modes of play you'll find a "Score Attack" mode which is basically the same as what Blazblue offers. It is a score oriented survival mode in which you'll continue racking up points for your actions, and wins so long as you don't lose. The "Score Attack" mode even allows you to upload your end score to a leaderboard for bragging rights should you feel the need. While this is a welcome extra it is the only other mode of offline play outside of the two story modes, and the training mode. When it comes to the "Training" mode it is your basic setup. A one-on-one fight against the CPU with optional settings available via the "OPTIONS" menu. While this is an efficient way to practice technique, and learn the command list without facing the possibility of a "Game Over" it still does not offer the gamer the tutorial that I think it needs.

Nitroplus is definitely a game geared towards fighting game fans who know their way around the genre's offerings in that sense. Without a tutorial mode in place you have to turn to the "Training" mode, or story modes to figure things out for yourself. Let me also not forget the traditional "Versus" mode in which you can do the usual 2-player local co-op, or fight against the CPU. The problem with that though is that things like combo setups, and strategy aren't really explained. The command list itself contains a simple listing of motions, and button icons (which do not match the controller) with associated move names, and only serves to confuse those who are uneducated even further. Your only hope outside of figuring things out for yourself via training mode, versus mode, and the story mode is to also reference the button layout which still doesn't help in explaining everything there is to know. There are a lot of mechanics at play in Nitroplus, and without a proper tutorial you're pretty much on your own in figuring out a proper strategy.

The combat in Nitroplus, as it were mirrors various aspects of different anime fighters, but makes them collectively unique, and complimentary so at the same time. Aside from having a female character who can dish out the usual melee combos your character of choice also has two assist characters as well as a variety of special attacks that are governed by a three tier meter. As far as the assist partners (Partner Blitz A & B) go they are basically tag team assists that can be called in briefly with the press of the (L1 & L2) shoulder buttons respectively to deal some damage or offer a way out of a sticky situation. Like the three tier meter at the bottom of the screen the circular dials beneath each assist character will fill up as you fight, and will make the character/s available for use once the circles are filled. The three tier meter on the other hand is a lot like that of 'MvC (Marvel vs Capcom)', or "Darkstalkers 3" in that filling up the bar to a certain level via attacks will allow for certain types of special attacks.

The special attacks in Nitroplus come in three different varieties including those of "Unique, Special & Super". Each of which follow similar motion inputs, and button presses as 'USF4 (Ultra Street Fighter 4)' has for it's specials, supers, and ultras. Along with these three separate command listings you'll also find in the control setup menu a flashy manual "dial-a-combo" attack known as a "Variable Rush" which can be altered via button presses to achieve different outcomes. These "Variable Rush" specials activate with the simple pressing of (X + CIRCLE), and turn the screen a flashy blue as the character doing the move dishes out the punishment if said move connects. It's sort of like a trap, and it uses up two bars of meter to perform. Lastly your character has what is called an "Infinite Blast". The 'Infinite Blast', which is available to use once the flaming icon underneath your health bar is illuminated fills the floor of the stage you are fighting in with flames, and gives you a chance to recover some health, and meter for as long as it is active. The 'Infinite Blast' is activated by either pressing (R2), or by pressing the (SQUARE + TRIANGLE + CIRCLE) buttons together. It's a good way to make a comeback, and could be likened to MvC3's "X-Factor", kind of.

I should also mention that there is a finishing move in Nitroplus called a "Lethal Blaze" which is much like BlazBlue's "Devastation" finisher, or Guilty Gear's 'Insta-Kill'. These character specific finishers do have set requirements, and will use up a full three tiers of meter to activate. Once activated the finisher will go into a special animation, and deal both blockable, and unblockable damage depending on the character performing the attack. These finishers are performed in a similar fashion as to USF4's ultras/supers, and are included in the command list listing. Outside of all that there's also a couple of evasive maneuvers, or "Escape Actions" tied to the (R1) shoulder button. By pressing 'R1 + Forward' you'll get a forward dash, or roll depending on the character. By doing the opposite you'll get an energy shield which is good for lessening the chip damage. You can even press 'R1 + Down' do a follow up hop. For those of you looking for a launcher the 'Heavy Action (X)' can be held, and charged to knock the opponent across the screen, or into the air for an aerial combo. The remaining melee attacks, which vary in strength/damage are tied to the SQUARE, TRIANGLE, and CIRCLE buttons, respectively. When it comes to achieving that final "Break Down (The game's equivalent to a 'Win')" in a match against the CPU, or player the key is using the attacks, and mechanics that best suit your current situation. The fighting is fast paced, and frantic, and will have both players on the edge of their seats as they try to outdo each other. Knowing what circumstance calls for what will help you to tip the balance in your favor. That, and an understanding of your character is a must for victory.

When it comes down to the online in Nitroplus it is made up of the most basic of menus. Everything in this game's matchmaking system is text based, and does little to impress fans of games like Blazblue, and Guilty Gear. It even makes setting up the character, and assist selections all the more difficult for those who don't know the characters by name. To a point though the matchmaking system is efficient in that it gets the player where they need to be quickly. The modes within the matchmaking main menu include the usual "Ranked", and "Player" match types as well as a "Friendly Fight" option for inviting online friends to compete against you. You can even enter a room, train in training mode, or search for a match. As far as the matchmaking itself goes joining someone, or accepting a challenge is completely optional. Like most anime fighters this one judges the player by their ping, and does so with the usual green, yellow, and red color indicators. Green being the best, and red being the worst. So, where does Nitroplus stack up in regards to other fighting games' net play? To be totally honest it's about as crappy as any other fighter out there today. The main problems I've encountered have included intentional lagswitching, and connection related issues. Oddly enough I did manage to get into a red ping match that wasn't all that bad though.

Aside from that the online does offer a little something extra in the way of personal tags. Like Blazblue, and Guilty Gear you'll find in place a three section name tag of sorts with which you can assign words from a predetermined alphabetical listing, and paste them onto a decorative name plate. There's also a lengthy phrase option for those who don't want to bother mixing, and matching words for their namesake. Even with this extra in place it still seems like a shallow nod to what other fighting games have done, and offered to their fans. Given the fact that you get a small "Gallery" full of art, and videos does little to offer up to the gamer something else to work towards.

The roster, for those of you who are interested features a small cast of tiny, and titular young ladies who are each tied to their own anime series. Most of you will recognize the busty Sonico, or the knightly Saber from "Fate/Stay". Other characters, while somewhat interesting will more than likely be lost to those who do not watch the more obscure anime. Some of the character designs are also bland, and do not offer much in the way of the eye candy. The whole school girl outfit, and nightgown getup is a little too cliche. With that having been said though the characters do have a diverse selection of fighting styles ranging from zoning types to grapplers, and even some hybrids. Some characters, like Saber even wield weapons. I found a personal favorite in "Ignis" who seems to be some sort of demon samurai girl with a katana. I'm sure there's a character for everyone, but what you'll encounter online most of the time is the same zoning characters that are easily abused.

Now for the Verdict ...

If I were to be totally honest, and I'm going to be, I'd say that this game just does not warrant the $40 asking price that it had at launch. At most it's worth $30, in my personal opinion. The game, though flashy, and mechanically sufficient does not offer the gamer much in return for their money outside of the "Score Attack", and story modes. On the flipside the online is good to a point, but most of the time you will experience bad matches against questionable gamers. The added fact that not many gamers are playing online further hurts the game's potential fun factor. I will admit that I like the fighting in Nitroplus, but like most anime fighters it too contains an unbalanced roster. This is noticeable by the use of the same easy to use, and easy to abuse characters. No one wants to play the melee-centric "Ruili", or "Murumasa" among other close-up characters. It's sad to see a majority of the roster neglected, but that has seemingly become a common thing with anime fighters these days. Don't get me wrong though. I like a diverse roster of characters with various attack styles even if they are projectile heavy. Just don't make said characters easy to use & abuse and everything would be alright. 

In closing I'm gonna say that if you are interested in Nitroplus for streaming or whatever I'd definitely hold off for a drop in the price. In it's current state it's just not worth the $40 even with the two free DLC characters that you can get from the PSN store. Yes, there are three pieces of free character related DLC available in the PSN store. Regardless of the freebies the game just does not offer enough to appease a genre veteran like myself, and will likely only appeal to the casual crowd.

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