Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel is the latest fighter to take to the PlayStation 4, featuring 12 characters from the visual novels of Tokyo-based Nitroplus. Typically, the title is set up to show fans what could happen if their favourites were brought together to lay down beatings, so what makes this game different – and what makes it tick?
Well, alongside the 12 playable characters, 20 extras have hopped aboard to provide assistance: you choose two assist characters to reliably deliver baseball bats to the back, enormous lasers, or, as the situation may demand, a timely offering of puke. With up to six characters on screen at once – albeit briefly – there's potential for some hilarity and chaos, though assists are on timers, and can't be spammed with impunity.
Further to the assist systems, and aside from yet another chain combo system, the game features heavy actions – chargeable attacks which can launch or stagger opponents. On top of that, the "escape" button, when used in conjunction with directional inputs, provides vanishing guard – a beefier defence that can be used mid-air, for example, as well as short hops, dashes, and guard counters.
Of course, super moves are available at the expense of meter – split in three – alongside enormous system-wide lethal blaze moves, which trigger a brief animated cut-scene, and, for the most part, offer potentially massive damage.
To make the game more approachable, and to entice Nitroplus fans who may not be overly enamoured with the fighting genre, the release boasts the simple variable rush combo mechanic. Triggered by tapping two buttons together, then mashing to kingdom come, this delivers a lengthy attack sequence that deals decent damage for those less dexterous, at the cost of two bars of meter. It's a nice addition, but by no means as refined, accessible, or as powerful, as, say, BlazBlue's Stylish mode. While the system-wide mechanics are responsive and sturdy enough, when measured against other titles in this space, they don't bring anything significantly new or exciting to the table.
Thankfully, the game's more daring with some of the characters' arsenals. Muramasa utilises a variety of grappling hook style special moves, traversing the battlefield with ease. Meanwhile, tiny hammer-wielding Mora can land some pretty powerful combos, and has some devastatingly unpredictable ways to get in on her opponent, more than making up for her diminutive stature.
Ein is, naturally, the zoner from Hell with a variety of projectile attacks, and can be particularly effective – perhaps too effective, as we finished arcade mode with her on the highest difficulty within the first few hours of play, using minimal continues. Those predominantly playing alone may well find this lack of challenge problematic, as the only other substantial solo fighting mode is a standard score attack.
Needless to say, there is network play: ranked and casual matches are present, but sadly, during our tests, we had major issues. Some degree of lag was almost always present, often severe and even noticeable on the character select screen, and connections were lost. As far as online components go, the only positive worth mentioning is that there's cross-play functionality between the PS4 and PS3 versions of the release.
Continuing this depressingly downward spiral, no challenge or tutorial mode exists – though there is a digital manual available through the PS4 dashboard. Elsewhere, arcade mode suffers the same fate as Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax in that the main story is precisely as pitiful – a collision of worlds bringing the various ladies of Nitroplus together to battle a mysterious, dark entity. Of course, fighting games don't require stellar narratives, but considering the game's pedigree, and perhaps reason for existing, this just isn't good enough.
Yet there is another story – aptly named Another Story – which unlocks after beating arcade mode. This series of ten visual novel-style episodes, interspersed with the optional scrap, takes you through events that happen after the main campaign, expanding and somewhat explaining the theme of colliding worlds. Those familiar with Nitroplus' creations may well enjoy these stories more – but it goes without saying that familiarity with the crew is helpful in order to appreciate the tale.
In terms of presentation, the rudimentary 3D backgrounds initially look pleasant and somewhat interesting: mountainside huts on fire, swirling clouds, heavy looking metal hooks and chains swinging in industrial complexes – but, bafflingly, nothing moves. Hooks are frozen mid-swing, flames are stationary, clouds are fixed in space. On every single one of the game's ten levels, everything is absolutely static. Short of being in high definition, these would look average even on the PlayStation 2.
Character sprites fare somewhat better, though. By and large they're interesting, and mostly well animated, but some attacks carry zero energy with little impact – crucial elements for the feel of a good fighting game.
Moving on, the localisation is both shabby and charming at once: choice quotes – presented out of context for fear of spoilers – include "And now its finish!", "We are those who announce the dead and keeps compact with the dead", and the wonderfully beguiling, "Come then, you who will blast this patchwork world".
And finally, as what should be a great example of a game that seeks to thrill followers, the title fails to provide anywhere near as much in terms of unlockable goodies as similar releases. A grand total of 26 items are up for grabs in the game's gallery, most of which are single drawings or simple sliding animations used throughout the arcade story.
Unfortunately for Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, its single player content is so threadbare that, more than ever, like-minded friends are essential in order to enjoy the game to its middling potential, and even then, any online sessions will most likely be scuppered by the wonky netcode. It's messy, it can look bad, and it feels incomplete, but beneath all of this is core gameplay that isn't without merit – if only for the most hardcore of Nitroplus' fighting game fans.