The Heat the Soul series on PSP were met with fan excitement, thanks to their diverse rosters and impressive graphics. However, with five iterations in less than five years, it was clear that Sony had milked that franchise a bit too much. With Soul Carnival, the Bleach series moves away from being a serious fighter, to a cute 2D sidescrolling brawler.
Well, we approve of the transformation. While the chibi Bleach characters will be love/hate amongst series fans, we have to say that these new cute interpretations of series favs looks rather charming on the PSP's small screen. They style works very well with the gameplay as well. The intuitive beat-em-up controls make the game instantly accessible -- an aspect crucial in good portable games design.
The controls are incredibly smooth. Moving Ichigo through the stages is never troublesome on the PSP D-Pad. Simple attacks are quite easy to perform, and button mashing will easily make do with many of the game's initial enemies. However, there is a bit more depth to the combat than just mindless button mashing. Ichigo's assist characters can be used for a variety of purposes, and all are readily accessed at the press of a button combination (which is seen on screen). For example, you can summon Orihime to heal Ichigo. Or, you can summon Rukia to get an additional attack, which can be added into your combos. There are recharge times for all of these assists, but they're fast enough to encourage the player to use them as often as possible.
Ichigo can also throw enemies into the air, creating opportunities for some fancy mid-air fighting. There seems to be a rudimentary leveling up system in place as well, making us believe that Ichigo's moveset will continuously expand throughout the course of the game. A trick we didn't use too much: hitting the L button will allow Ichigo to slow down time. Perhaps it'll be of more use when the game gets trickier.
The build we played at TGS was solid fun, even if it wasn't quite innovative. But, the impressive graphics, quick load times, and fun controls really made us quite interested in Soul Carnival. With no real release outside of the US planned, it looks like players may have to stick with importing this one -- at least it should be available for download on the Japanese PlayStation Store.