It's hard to avoid comparing BlazBlue: Continuum Shift with Super Street Fighter IV. Both are budget-priced updates that add new characters and modes to existing fighting games. But where Capcom's offering improves on its predecessor by expanding the character roster and retooling the online experience, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift's biggest selling point is that it makes it surprisingly easy for newcomers to get in on the action.
For the uninitiated, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is a 2D fighter from Arc System Works, the developers behind Guilty Gear. It's more combo-intensive than something like Mortal Kombat, but not as frenetic and crazy as Marvel vs. Capcom. It uses a four-button attack system and, as players land blows, a "Heat" gauge fills. That energy is used to unleash massive attacks called Astral Heats.
That's pretty standard for 2D arcade fighters nowadays, but Continuum Shift offers a bunch of challenges and tutorials that help new players learn the characters. You've got beginner, intermediate and advanced tutorial sections, which break down all of the different gameplay elements in Continuum Shift. Then, after you've had your fill there, you can hop into a strategy section that breaks down each fighter's specific tactics. Here Arc System Works really improved on Calamity Trigger, which dumped players into an endless fight without any kind of guidance whatsoever. Continuum Shift breaks each of its fighters down to a nigh-molecular level.
In the Challenges section, more experienced players get a chance to test their mettle by completing a series of tough, character-specific maneuvers. This is a teaching tool unto itself -- sitting there and practicing a six-hit chain with Ragna until you get it is satisfying, but applying those techniques in a live match is a high only fighting game fans can know. Throughout my time with Continuum Shift, I felt like I grew as a fighter. I can't give a better testimonial than that.
Finally, initiates can also take advantage of a new beginner control scheme, which simplifies the button memorization in that it ... doesn't make you memorize any buttons. It's like a button-masher's dream; combos seem to just chain themselves together.
Continuum Shift is not without content for the advanced fighter. There's a new Legion mode -- think: the Sphere grid in Final Fantasy X, except every node you land on triggers a fight. Each fight has a rank that corresponds with its difficulty (though I should note the majority of these battles are tough despite their rank) and some fights spice things up with modifiers like unlimited Heat for the CPU. As you win nodes, you can recruit one of the fighters you just defeated for your "army." It's an interesting idea, but failed to offer little more than a few minutes of fun.
The other relevant addition for advanced players is the elimination of the Guard Libra system, the small tug-of-war gauge in Calamity Trigger that would fill as the player blocked, eventually placing them in a stunned state as a deterrent from "turtling" (hiding in a corner and blocking). It's been replaced by a character-specific point system. As players perform guard breaks, points are depleted and once all the points are gone, that particular player is stunned for a brief time. Personally, I think the Guard Libra system was more practical, but this new system helps differentiate the characters.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift adds three new playable characters (a fourth is coming as paid DLC), and a plethora of single-player content. And with a price tag of $39.99, there isn't much I can complain about here. For established players, the additional characters will likely be the main draw, but Continuum Shift's greatest strength lies in its ability to teach newcomers the ropes through its wealth of applicable tutorials that go way beyond what I've seen in other fighters.
This review is based on the review code of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift for the Xbox 360 provided by Aksys Games.