Fully Illustrated’s mud-soaked scrolling beat-'em-up hearkens back to a simpler time of high scores and roast chicken health pick-ups. It's a throwback to a beloved genre with a cartoon aesthetic and historical setting. It's not unique, but visceral action, a charming art style, and loving adherence to period lore sets this title apart from its peers.
A gravel-voiced narrator spins us a tale of turmoil in 120AD Britain. As the Britannic hordes try to push back the Roman occupation, three warriors lead a rebellion against Emperor Hadrian’s forces and the local tribes he’s twisted over to his side. It’s a setting that feels distinct, the bloody conflict of this era isn’t something that shows up much in games. Last year's Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice showed us a Pictish barbarian fighting the undead Viking hordes, but that was centuries after Hadrian-era Britain. Wulverblade presents a more grounded and historically mindful depiction of British history. There’s a wealth of well-curated learning materials in the game’s extras menu and it’s clear that the development team revelled in the subject matter.
A classic scrolling brawler at heart, Wulverblade recalls the chunky and vibrant action of Castle Crashers, itself an affectionate homage to the likes of Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. The story mode is a linear slaughter through a series of stages and boss fights. Combat is simple yet satisfying, with dodge mechanics that trigger brutal and cinematic counters.
The three main characters share a basic set of canned combos, but each strikes a balance of attributes to suit different play styles. Caradoc is an all-rounder, with a decent amount of speed and power. Brennus is a tank who can pulverize enemies in one fell swoop, but he lacks speed and finesse. Guinevere – by far the most fun of the three – is weak but quick and agile. All fighters have a basic dash that can be used to dodge or rush the enemy, as well as a block that can prime some satisfying counters. A berserk meter fills with each attack, which when full can trigger a rage that increases speed and tops up health for a small period. Finally, a special ability calls upon a pack of ravenous wolves to clear the screen of enemies.
The combat is fun, surprisingly varied, and never really gets old. Enemy numbers can ramp up, and on higher difficulties it can feel a bit overwhelming, but it never feels unfair and sometimes a quick switch of character can be the change of pace required to get you over that difficulty spike.
There are problems, mostly with the weapon system. Your default weapon can be replaced on the battlefield, either with a temporary power weapon or a more permanent one that adds further combo options. The former never feels like it lasts long enough to be of much use and the latter is dropped when you’re knocked down. It’s often frustrating to have to worry about a pack of screaming barbarians and retrieving your fancy new gladius with the overhead slice attack. Then there are the thrown weapons, which feel weak and lack the weighty impact of almost every other implement in the game. Still, it’s fun to pick up a Roman soldier’s severed head and throw it at one of his friends.
Boss fights can be tedious, basic damage sponges with a suite of special abilities and a few enemy waves to make things harder. Most can be downed with some well-timed dodges and your character's berserker rage.
Outside of the main story is an old school arcade mode that sends you through the stages with limited lives. Elsewhere there’s an arena mode where you can take on waves of enemies and best online scores. To cap it all off there’s couch co-op, so you can relive those memories of jolly cooperation and not so jolly disagreement.
A fine addition to the scrolling beat-'em-up genre. The story and its historic backdrop is interesting and the combat is meaty and fun. Arcade and arena modes will keep you coming back for more, as will co-op.