Blade Kitten review
Hack and Slash Is Truly Mixed
Blade Kitten is a game about a kitten (well, catgirl) swinging a blade around while shooting out any number of humourous remarks. Apparently it's also based on a web comic of the same name, but I wouldn't know much about that. All I know is that I saw it on the Steam store and thought "do want".
Visually the game mostly scores pretty well. The anime inspired style of the game works very well as the world of Blade Kitten is painted in cel shaded graphics, which also works well as a nice throwback to origins as a web comic. Character designs are very nice, although most of this attention is showered upon Kit herself, whose wild pink hair and wide selection of costumes makes her the most appealing character to the eye. Of course, the designers have taken care to ensure other individuals in the game universe fit in with their respective roles, like the military soldiers with suitably scifi armour and weapons.
Of course, the levels look great too, as Kit ends up travelling through cities, sewers and facilities during her adventures. While the plane Kit explores is itself filled with plenty of stuff, it's interesting to see what's in the background. NPCs trying to keep out of the way or soldiers moving in from the distance to intercept an intruder are some examples of that.
There is one issue though and unfortunately that can interfere with gameplay. For the most part the camera works fine in maintaining a good view of the action, but sometimes the camera will suddenly take a dive and end up staring at a lovely brick wall or the ground, which takes a few seconds to readjust to where it is supposed to be. This is a rare problem but annoying when it happens.
The voicework is fantastic as character engage in their witty dialog. Sure it can be pretty cheesy at times but I think that works in its favour. As well as cutscenes you also have characters speaking during gameplay, like Kit making jokes at the enemies' expense or the mook soldiers shouting warning to their fellow bad guys upon spotting a certain feline swordslinger.
On the other end, the music is mostly forgettable. OK, that title screen music will not get out of my head in a good way, but the rest lacks any real kind of impact. Sure, it's upbeat and pleasant so you don't have to rush to the volume controls to nuke the BGM but you'd be hard pressed to accurately recall anything about the music past the title screen.
The story is probably one of the bigger problems for the game. On the plus side, Kit Ballard is a very likeable character. She's charming and sassy and ticks all the right boxes in making the player interested in her and her adventures. While character development isn't really a priority for platformers in general, Kit at least gets enough depth for her to matter. The same cannot be said for anyone else. Any major characters that do pop up are promptly forgotten by the end of the very same level and sometimes you have nobody other than Kit in terms of big names.
Sadly, the overall plot also suffers due to the scattered vague way it is delivered. The story starts off with someone who Kit apparently knows stealing her breaker key and she has to give chase to get it back. However, the perspective shifts at the end of the level, then at the end of the next, and the next etc. It's like the script writers kept getting distracting by something shiny at the end of each level, resulting in plot lines that get started, don't last very long and rarely get resolved before the next one starts. Eventually you get clued in to the underlying plot at the end, but it's terribly rushed. Even worse, the game ends with no real resolution. This is because BK was originally going to be an episodic series, but the project was shelved after this game.
So the gameplay is part adventure platforming and part hack and slash. As a catgirl, Kit is very agile and can jump and mid-air jump pretty well. She can also perform other moves like dashing and sliding to get past traps or dive through small gaps. To facilitate exploration she can also cling onto certain surfaces and then climb along them, allowing you to reach places by clawing your way around walls and ceilings as needed. It's a wealth of options that mostly work very well. They even decided to give you a creature you can ride in certain locations, which indeed feels a little gimmicky but it's pretty fun to dash through obstacles and run over bad guys so I'll give it some credit.
One movement that works out awkwardly though is the wall jump. The game seems very touchy about this and thus can have trouble in determining if you're trying to wall jump or trying to mid-air jump. Having the latter happen and crash back down to where you started is not fun. Fortunately, there are only a few sections in the game that actually require wall jumping. Otherwise the controls feel quite responsive and you should have no problem in executing the moves you need to get around.
So if you want to explore you have the moves to do it and Krome have also made sure you have all the optional areas you could hope for to do so. Each level is absolutely filled to the brim with out of the way locations that often rely on your acrobatic and climbing skills to reach, with some requiring some clever thinking to access. That said, if you're looking for massive incentive along the lines of special powerups, new abilities or cool gadgets as your reward for exploring then you may be a little disappointed. Blade Kitten rewards exploring with nothing more than hex (the game's currency) or a few items related purely to earning achievements. On the one hand, it means you don't miss out on anything significant if you do miss a hidden area. However, it also lessens the incentive to actually go out of your way when the reward is basically the same stuff that literally litters the level already (seriously, you can't move without spotting hex somewhere).
Well, even the main path that moves the story and level along has lots to contend with. You'll have to hit switches, dash past crusher traps, time movements past flamethrowers, smash through weak structures, clamber along platforms in all directions and work warp gates to reach areas in the background. While your brain won't be challenged quite as much as a puzzle game might do, some of these things do take a little thinking to figure out. It's the kind of challenges you would expect from a platformer.
The jumping is done pretty well too. Blade Kitten rarely throws in instant death (and when it does, infinite lives and plentiful checkpoints remove any frustration) and any leaps required are generally set up well to avoid being too easy or irritating. Some jumps even have points that Kit will latch onto if she is close to them, making leaping across pinpoint platforms a cool looking but doable feat.
Combat revolves almost entirely around the sword that always floats nearby. Kit can perform a basic series of slashes, throw her sword, guard against attacks and also perform a few more flashy moves like crashing down onto the ground at high speed or landing on an enemy and backflipping them into oblivion. Some of these will use up stamina that quickly refills when not being used to try and make you pace yourself. Technically speaking, there's some decent variety in the options you have available. I say technically, because after a short while you realise that the best option for combat is to simply mash the basic attack and rush headlong into the enemy forces (especially as the basic attack doesn't use up stamina). Sadly, this works for most of the enemies you'll face. Oh sure, you'll come across some with shields that you have to drag away to be able to hit them or stuff like that, but these make up a small fraction and don't even exist in some levels.
Don't get me wrong. There is still something satisfying about flying into a mob of bad guys and sending them flying with a flurry of slashes, and sometimes I'll feel like showing off and will opt to deftly backflip enemies to death. But it would have helped to have the enemy encourage more diverse attack patterns on a more regular basis outside of a couple of mooks and the few boss fights scattered around.
Another issue people may have with this is that Blade Kitten is a very easy game. In addition to the aforementioned thing of rewarding reckless offence, Kit's health regenerates very rapidly when she isn't being attacked. Death by enemy attack will be surprisingly rare as it takes getting mobbed and overwhelmed to run the risk of that.
I also have to report that the game does suffer from some peculiar glitches during gameplay. In one level I would be dashing past crushers and would end up falling through the stage and dying if I jumped at a certain point. In another I dashed jumped and somehow ended up stuck inside a pipe that should have been impossible to get inside, forcing a quit and reload to get out again. And of course, the aforementioned problem of the camera sometimes not giving a proper view of the action. While uncommon, it's terrible that these quite game impacting bugs could make it past quality control.
As it was intended to be an episodic series, Blade Kitten is relatively short. I cleared the story in a little over five hours. There is the option to replay levels and all that hex you've been collecting can be used to purchase stuff from the shop including stat upgrades, blades and costumes. These can help expand on things if you're willing to put the time into them.
When I see Blade Kitten I don't see a bad game. It's fun to explore the levels, figuring out how to bypass the obstacles in your way and there is something to be said for slashing your way through hordes of enemies. I'm somewhat saddened that there is unlikely to be an episode 2. However, I'm disappointed because the game had promise to be so much more than it is and it is let down by glitches and ideas that really needed fleshing out more. As it stands though it's still a rather good hack and slash platformer with plenty of charm.
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