Back in 1994, Treasure teamed up with Sega to release a game based on Yu Yu Hakusho, a popular anime at the time. It was the first of its kind: a fighting game that allowed for 4 simultaneous players, and the frantic chaos that resulted made it a cult classic. For their new adaptation of Bleach (an anime/manga series decidedly similar in premise to Yu Yu Hakusho) Sega and Treasure exhume the work done on that title and freshen it up for the wireless age. The end result is a showcase online fighter for Nintendo’s handheld, and a more solid single player experience than you might expect.
Staying true to its old-school roots, Bleach DS sports a look that could be straight out of a Neo Geo cabinet, with big, 2D sprites and lovely hand-drawn backdrops, and a view that scales in and out like the classic Samurai Showdown games. Even the intro reminds me a bit of some mid-nineties brawlers. Unfortunately, the animation is also a bit dated, but with such a huge roster this can be overlooked. In contrast, the audio is some of the finest I’ve heard from the DS’s tinny speakers. The guitar and synth soundtrack is unlike anything I’ve heard before from Norio "NON" Hanzawa, and really suits the action perfectly.
The gameplay setup is decidedly similar to Yu Yu (Guardian Heroes also used the combat engine from Yu Yu, for another example). There are 2 "planes" of play that can be switched between (effectively allowing you to jump into and out of the background). These planes don’t interact with each other, so it serves as a means of dodging foes, or keeping fights separate when there’s multiple opponents on screen. Although it’s only occasionally useful in one-on-one matches, it makes the 3 and 4 player bouts more manageable, which might be why Guilty Gear Isuka adopted a similar system.
Perhaps the most unique addition to the gameplay is the card system. Players equip a "deck" at the beginning of the match that acts as a set of power-ups that will either positively affect the player, or hinder the opponents when activated by touching them on the DS’ bottom screen. Card order is shuffled, with only the top two available at any given time, taken from a customized deck using whatever cards you’ve unlocked or purchased. This is an unusual element for a fighting game and it gives players who have spent more time unlocking good cards an edge, but it doesn’t upset the balance of the game too badly, and adds some unique strategy to the fights.