Ever since Treasure broke their sequel cherry a few years back, they've been whoring it up with a string of revivals to cash in on their old classics. Their latest effort might be their biggest sell out yet, a second installment of the anime-licensed fighter released on the Nintendo DS just over a year prior. The engine is the same, the animations are reused, and everything about it screams "rehash." But most surprisingly, it's actually good enough and fresh enough that I'm glad they went ahead with it.
The first Bleach DS was itself a spiritual sequel, continuing many of the gameplay ideas established in Treasure's first fighting game, 1995's Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen. That game established the 4-player fighting game sub-genre, and Bleach DS carried the torch with the same dual-plane playfield and multiplayer madness, and added a much refined fighting engine that could held up as well during 4-player chaos as it could during more technical 1-on-1 bouts. It was also among the first DS games to offer online play, a feature it couldn't be better suited for.
It's hard to muster the same kind of enthusiasm for this sort of sequel as it is for an all-new game, but it really has been improved in every way.
But Bleach DS 2nd really shows what another year in the shop can do for a game. The first thing you'll notice is the completely reworked story mode. Where the first game offered an unimaginative story mode consisting of a series of battles with dialog in-between, this new iteration offers one of the most interesting, varied, and completely entertaining story modes the genre has seen.
The scenarios are linked by paths in a hub that resembles a board game. Many battles are straightforward 1-on-1 fights, as they were in the first game, but things get a but sillier with some of the challenge-based levels. In these stages, players must complete a task, like collecting 30 bombs without letting any hit the ground, dodging acid raindrops, or slicing waves of flying birds. But the highlights of the story modes are the levels that pit you against dozens of enemies and towering bosses, offering moments of inspired Guardian Heroes-style brilliance. All told, the story mode packs over a hundred stages, with three difficulties, and it's a joy to play over and over again.
Of course, no licensed fighting game sequel could escape without the requisite roster updates. The first game packed an impressive roster of 28 characters, including two clones that played identically to others. The latest offers a completely absurd lineup of 44 unique characters, giving one of the clones his own unique moves, and leaving the (completely useless) masked version of Komamura as the roster's only casualty.
The returning characters have been tweaked quite a bit, with a focus on softening some of the more overpowered combatants. The most notoriously cheap move from the first game, Ichigo's Bankai super, has been weakened tremendously, and the infinite combos are either gone, or very difficult to do. This doesn't mean all 44 characters are viable for competitive play, of course. A significant number of these are novelty characters included to appease fans of the anime, but too weak to hold their own. Still, most of the characters are quite usable, which makes for a huge, diverse lineup.
There's still a ton of extra modes to explore. A combo-tutorial called Challenge mode has not returned from the first game, but all the other modes are back, and have been graced with some much needed options. Arcade, Survial, and Time Attack modes now include difficulty settings, and the ability to play co-operatively with a computer-controlled ally against two opponents. The AI is still pretty weak, but it's been beefed up quite a bit from the first, so these modes have gone up considerably in entertainment value.
While the single player experience has been expanded nicely, the multiplayer is still the star of the show. Grabbing a match online is easy, and the fast-paced, combo-happy play is perfect for 4-player rumbles. A much needed "rematch" option has been added, as well, to make it easier to keep playing with your friends. Just don't expect to be playing with the kids in Japan; Those 20,000 miles make for some serious lag. The local multiplayer is very impressive, too, with single cart download play offering all the options of its multi-cart counterpart.
It's hard to muster the same kind of enthusiasm for this sort of sequel as it is for an all-new game, but it really has been improved in every way. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this follow-up not expands and refines the original (as I expected it would), but offers a substantially new experience in the form of the new story mode. This engaging single-player experience alone made the second purchase completely worthwhile. I can't say this means I'm left hoping for a third game, but that's because I'm left with the warm, satisfied feeling that comes from seeing a game realize its potential.
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