Review: Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel (PS4)

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Title: Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (2.1 GB)
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Marvelous
Developer: Examu
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel is also available on PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

** Note about fight sticks: This is not a game that supports PS3 fightsticks on the PS4, as some games do. This game will require either a PS4 native fightstick or a converter of some kind.

For their tenth anniversary, adult visual novel company Nitroplus announced that they planned to release a crossover fighting game featuring characters from their games. It was planned to be a sequel to the fighting game Nitroplus Royale that they had put out a couple years prior. Their anniversary was in 2010. After several years in development hell the game was finally revitalized, now under development by Examu, a company known for fighting games like Arcana Heart.

True to the original idea, Nitroplus Blasterz focuses on characters from numerous Nitroplus visual novels, as well as some characters from anime and games that Nitroplus helped fund or publish. The game features twelve characters plus twenty assist characters.

The most recognizable face to the western audience is probably Saber, from Fate/Stay Night (not strictly a Nitro+ game, but they did collaborate with Type-Moon on the prequel game, Fate/Zero). The game also features Al Azif (Demonbane series), Anna (Carnival of Moonlight), Echika (Tokyo Necro), Ein (Phantom of Inferno), Ignis (Jingai Makyo), Mora (Vampirdzhija Vjedogonia), Ouka (OKStyle mascot), Ruili (Kikokugai), Muramasa (Full Metal Daemon), Saya (Song of Saya) and Super Sonico (Nitro+ Mascot character).

Two additional non Nitro+ characters are in the game but only available as DLC: Homura from Senran Kagura (due to Marvelous’ involvement in the console port) and Aino Heart from Arcana Heart (due to Examu’s involvement in development).

If those visual novels seem unfamiliar, rest assured, most of them aren’t available in English officially. The support characters fare a little better as many of them are anime projects Nitro+ was involved with and most of those anime, such as Psycho-Pass or Exiled from Paradise, do have an English version. Still, it seems odd to me that this game would be localized in the first place. But then, fighting games aren’t huge on the story so let’s jump into the game itself.

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Gameplay:
Being an Examu project, the game plays most similarly to their other fighting games such as Aquapazza and Arcana Heart. This is a fully 2D, one-on-one fighter that falls more into the anime-fighter (or air-dasher) subgenre, so expect a lot of mobility options and long combos. Last year’s Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is also a good comparison point as both are crossover fighters that remove complexity in some areas to make the games more approachable.

Blasterz uses a five button layout, labeled A thru E. A, B, and C are the main attack buttons representing light, medium, and heavy attacks respectively. D is a mobility button and also used for assists, and finally E is the ‘heavy action’ which is similar in some ways to the Dust button in Guilty Gear.

The D button is where a lot of the comparisons to Arcana Heart will be made. When pressed at neutral, it will make the character roll towards their foe. When pressed while holding down, the character perform a short hop. The interesting thing about this is that the D button can be used after a move to cancel the move and perform the desired movement option which is good for chasing an opponent during the combo. The effect is decidedly less pronounced than the similar mechanic in Arcana Heart though, for those familiar with characters wildly flying around the screen in that game.

… base mechanics are pretty easy to slip into …
The E button has myriad uses. At neutral, it does a strong attack with a lot of knockback or knockup depending on the character. If the button is held down though, this strong attack will perform a guard crush attack, an attack that can’t be blocked normally and which makes the opponent unable to move briefly after it hits. Down E is a universal sweep attack. Air E is a universal knock down. Finally, pressing forward and E while blocking an attack is counter raid. This can be used to break out of an opponent’s pressure but at the cost of one super bar.

There are a lot of two-button moves as well. B+C is throw. A+D and B+D are the assist buttons (for the A and B assists respectively) which call in an attack from one of the two partner characters. C+E is variable rush, a move similar to the all-out attack mechanic in Persona Arena, where the player can mash on the buttons to perform a short but decently damaging combo at the expense of two super bars. And last, A+B+C is the blast, a burst mechanic that has both offensive and defensive capabilities.

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The core mechanics of Blasterz aren’t too different from many other fighting games out there but one of the things the game does more poorly than some of the others is explain those mechanics. Since XSeed, the game’s publisher, has been making a point of how easy the game is to pick up, I was hoping the game would have some tutorials to explain the mechanics. That said, they’re not completely wrong. The base mechanics are pretty easy to slip into and there are a few moves that are universal between characters to make it easier to swap around.

For learning the more involved mechanics, I guess there is the game’s manual. This is where I learned of the existence of some of the mechanics, but the only in-game learning is the normal fighting game training mode. The training mode is at least fully featured, with a plethora of options to control some aspects of the game but it’s still not much more than a punching bag for combo practice.

… not a bad way to spend a couple hours …
The main modes in the game are the Story, Another Story, Score Attack, Versus, and Network. Story mode is the usual arcade type mode. The player character takes on seven of the other characters and a boss. There’s some dialogue thrown in between the matches but it’s not all that interesting and is roughly the same for all of the characters in the game. Score Attack is roughly the same but the player can’t change the difficulty and there are no dialogue scenes.

Another Story is the big game mode and is the one where they put the Nitroplus in Nitroplus Blasterz. As the name alludes to, this is another story mode but this one is a lot more like a visual novel with a few fights thrown in. The oddest thing about this mode is that the characters all seem to have been re-written to all be in one coherent universe.

It’s a pretty interesting story, concerning the investigation of the death of the mayor of the city of Arkham. The story pulls a lot of lovecraftian lore as well as apparently some callbacks to the previous Nitroplus fighting game. It’s not a bad way to spend a couple hours with the game.

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Finally, Versus and Network are the multiplayer modes for couch and online respectively, which will be discussed in the multiplayer section below.

Mechanically, Nitroplus is a passable fighting game. I feel like the assist system as having two assist characters really adds a lot of variety to the types of strategies a player can employ. Also, unlike most assist systems, a lot the assist cooldowns in Blasterz are prohibitively long to the point where many assists can only be used once or twice a fight. This means the game isn’t quite as hectic and lets the assist attacks serve as a silver bullet.

It seems odd, but another thing I like is that blast and super bars don’t carry over between rounds. In games that do, it’s easy for the losing player to play conservatively as the round closes so they can hopefully start the next round with an advantage. Blasterz really incentivizes pulling out all the stops as a player approaches death to use up any assist or other meters that are available.

Even with some of the mechanics being good, the overall fighting system doesn’t stand out all that much to me. At its core, the game doesn’t differentiate much from the likes of other crossover fighters like Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax or Aquapazza. The strength of crossover fighters often lies in the players enjoying the crossover aspect and me only recognizing two of the fighters and a few of the assists means some of that aspect is lost on me and might also be for others in my situation. Plus, once I was done with the stories, there really wasn’t much else to do in the game except find some multiplayer matches.

… a full-anime style …
Visuals:
Nitroplus Blasterz uses full 2D sprites for the characters. Although these are not amazingly high-def sprites, they’re still pretty good. In motion especially, the characters have good animation and some pretty cool looking attacks. The special attacks can occasionally get overwhelming, especially if there are a lot of assist attacks and things going on at once, but this was an infrequent problem.

The coolest part of the graphics are the lethal blaze attacks. These super attacks are the strongest moves for each character and cost a full three super bars. They all feature some kind of cut-in as well, which seem to be fully animated not with sprites but in a full-anime style. It’s a small touch, given that it amounts to only a split-second of animation, but it’s a nice touch.

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Audio:
As might be expected for such a niche game, the voices in Nitroplus Blasterz are Japanese only. And they get used a fair amount too. All of the Story and Another Story modes are voiced, on top of all the quips and phrases said during battle.

The music in the game is pretty good and well suited for a fighting game. As with a lot of fighting games, the sound effects can occasionally get a little annoying. This mostly happened when I was in training mode repeating a move a lot to practice a combo though, not something that I noticed through normal play.

… the online component seems like a mess at the moment …
Online/Multiplayer:
As mentioned above, Blasterz has a Versus mode and a Network mode for multiplayer play. Versus mode is the couch co-op version for local multiplayer play while Network is for online multiplayer. As with other aspects of the game, these modes are pretty standard. Online play is grouped both into ranked matches which affect the player’s rank level, and casual/player matches which don’t. The player match rooms can be tailored slightly with a few options and can hold up to six people with players rotating in and out.

Unfortunately, my time spent with the online modes has been very disheartening. Before the game was out, I tried playing online twice. Once, against another reviewer where we paired up in a casual room, hit the ready button and… got an error that the game couldn’t find a match. After several attempts and swapping room hosts, we gave up.

Later, using the invite system, I was able to join a room hosted by someone I knew who bought the Japanese version. However, we were never able to get past the character select screen. Each time, while on this screen, the selection would time out and eventually boot us back to the room. At the time, the English version was still on version 1.00 and the Japanese version was on 1.03 which may explain the issue but it was annoying nonetheless.

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After the game came out (and a release day patch updated the game to version 1.01), I tried getting in some random rooms. I had almost as much trouble playing as before, with most of my experience spent staring at “connecting” messages or errors. Hosting my own casual room got me the same error, “couldn’t find match”, every single time someone would join. And ranked was a complete bust for me. I tried to get even a single match in of that but was unsuccessful for half an hour before giving up.

Joining casual rooms was the only place I had any success. Sometimes I would attempt to join a room and wait several minutes while it tried to connect, only to get kicked. It said by the host but I assume it was an auto-kick because I never even saw the players in the room. However, I did manage to get into a few casual matches. The connection then was just okay at best, even with one opponent showing as a strong connection. The fact that there was even lag on the character select screen just shows how unconventional the game’s netcode is.

Needless to say, the online component seems like a mess at the moment. For the PS4 version, I would honestly suggest using Share Play over the game’s own built in functions. Which, given how much more lag there is in Share Play due to streaming everything rather than just inputs, just shows how messed up the game’s own functions are.

… it’s hard to recommend the game much …
Conclusion:
Crossover fighters often stand more on the character selection than anything else and Nitroplus Blasterz is no different. There’s some fun to be had in the game even for players who don’t know all the characters, and the “Another Story” mode goes a ways towards at least assigning some kind of personality to the faces. However there isn’t a whole lot that makes the game catch the eye over similar titles.

The messy online really does the game no favors too. I could forgive the online if there were more single player options and likewise I could forgive the lack of single player options if the online were fine. But with both problems, it’s hard to recommend the game much. Fans of the Nitroplus visual novels who want to fight as these characters are the people I would most likely recommend the game to. Because it does have saving graces, the Another Story mode and the “good enough” game systems, it’s disappointing that the game squanders them.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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