BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend review: Accessible insanity

My experience with BlazBlue doesn't stretch beyond a few hours with the Xbox 360 version of the original, dramatically subtitled Calamity Trigger. Having pumped a few more hours into BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend, I can at least confirm that it remains a beautiful and eminently playable fighter with lots to offer and plenty to keep players busy.
%Gallery-136395% The PlayStation Vita and console versions are nearly identical -- features, menu screens and all. You've got the usual arcade, local versus and online modes for starters, and several single-player modes and a positively exhaustive training mode.

And I mean exhaustive, as in "this is how you jump" exhaustive. The training mode runs the gamut from the most basic maneuvers and mechanics all the way up to character specific strategies. The latter techniques aren't presented terribly well, offering pages of text about a character's strength's and abilities, but not nearly as much hands-on guidance. Thankfully, a separate challenge mode does exactly that, laying out specific combos for every character.

The lessons will pay off for the diligent, and Vita owners will be glad to know that the controls do an admirable job of accommodating the demands of a modern fighter. Some of the more advanced techniques can be difficult to pull off, notably those that require pressing two or more buttons simultaneously. For example, it's easy to accidentally perform a Break Burst instead of a Rapid Cancel -- the difference between pressing all four attack buttons instead of just three. (Console controls perform as usual -- i.e. 360 owners will want an arcade stick or suffer the wrath of the default D-pad.)

That said, the usual bread-and-butter techniques are easy enough to pull off on the Vita. I found myself easily slipping back into action with Noel -- one of the few characters I'm familiar with -- and doing what she does best: firing off a seemingly endless string of combos. If you prefer, you can even enable the Stylish mode, which greatly simplifies the controls and makes combo execution as easy as mashing a single button.

It's been a very long time since I've played fighting games in any serious way, so I can't comment with any authority on Continuum Shift Extend's technical merits -- for what it's worth, it won't be at Evo this year -- but everything certainly seems solid. Every character controls perfectly and animates beautifully, and each is completely unique, from the squirrel-like Makoto to Arakune, a mass of sentient, psychotic black goo. Combos generally rely on chains and cancels, which should be familiar to most fighting fans, even those whose knowledge stops at Street Fighter. There's a wrinkle in the form of the Drive attack, a button that functions differently for each character. Quarter-circle forward won't carry you nearly as far as it will in, say, a Capcom fighter.

The fact that each character is so different is one of the most appealing aspects of Continuum Shift Extend, which offers up radically different styles of play and some truly bizarre match-ups. Evil puppeteer versus future cop? Why not? Werewolf butler against robot samurai? Sure. Each character is visually distinct and offers a unique arsenal of techniques.

Thankfully, the aforementioned training mode ensures that even modestly skilled players can pick up some reliable strategies for their character of choice. Within a few minutes, I was able to understand the basics of Taokaka, a character I've never used before. And, if all that learning is too much to handle, there's always the Stylish mode, which guarantees that each fight at least looks impressive.

Beyond the training mode, Continuum Shift Extend is packed with single-player content. Both the arcade and story modes contain fully-voiced dialogue. The story mode in particular offers up a (convoluted) story for each character, each told via hand-drawn art, dialogue and, of course, a series of fights. In addition, there's an extra difficult Unlimited Mars mode, Score Attack and the Abyss, which has players conquering a series of challenges and earning permanent perks as they advance through each floor.

Compared to the amount of single-player content, however, multiplayer is surprisingly bare. There is no challenge lobby akin to the offerings seen in Mortal Kombat and SoulCalibur 5. Instead, players can choose from ranked matches or player matches. That's it. The end result is that up to six players can occupy a lobby, but only two will actually be fighting at any time. In other words, prepare to spend a lot of time watching other people fight. Apart from the occasional connection error, matches are essentially lag free. My time was spent predominantly on the Vita version.

A few match filtering options are available, such as whether to allow Unlimited characters, skill level of the room and the like. Strangely, there is no way to disable Stylish mode, which seems like an essential option for serious fighters. Trust me, it's not fun to watch an opponent pull off incredible combos knowing that they all sprung from mashing the same button over and over.

While the online play would certainly benefit from more options, the breadth of single-player content is hard to overlook. Combining that with an extreme willingness to accommodate even the newest of newcomers -- right down to those who don't know a health bar from a power meter -- Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend offers a comprehensive and satisfying package.

This review is based on retail copies of the PlayStation Vita and Xbox 360 versions of Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend, provided by Aksys Games.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.