Blade Master is one of those arcade games where you actually have to complete it before it tells you the story. A fair maiden who also happens to have the powers to seal/release a King of Darkness was captured by an Evil Army to do their bidding. The heroes Roy and Arnold must save the day by fighting through these Phantom Soldiers. Roy and Arnold? From the looks of this game it takes place in ancient realm completely unlike anything in this world, so why the generic names? Arnold is a big dude so I figure he takes after Arnold Schwarzenegger. Roy is a smaller guy so he must be uh...Roy Scheider? Look just forget I said anything.
This game belongs to the hack & slash genre. It uses the conventional setup of a beatemup with its belt-scroll style of level-design and masses of foes and bosses to put down. Where the genre differentiates is in its usage of weapons and different style of mechanics to create something similar but quite unique. The Blade Masters specialize in close-quarters fighting and though the player is free to swing wildly at anything that approaches there is a level of depth to this game that makes it interesting. When a player's attack collides with an enemy's their weapons will meet in a clash. From here the the player can stab at the enemy they blocked for good damage, attack an enemy approaching from behind, or even devastate the stunned enemy with a jumping attack. It's a neat system since it promotes an aggressive style not seen in the genre, which is more about maneuvering so that the enemies are properly "herded" for easier disposal.
The really useful aspect of this technique is that it works on bosses, making them something more than just a very large target with a lot of hit-points. However this can also make bosses too easy since a large number of them can't so much as get a hit in when the player can safely deflect their blows. So to keep things challenging Blade Master plays the numbers game. That is the player will be frequently outnumbered in each encounter. A friend can and probably should join in to even the odds as towards the end everyone attacks in pairs, even the final boss. Still this can be an extra layer of challenge for those going in solo and if they can manage to defeat the final bosses with little trouble that's a very respectable achievement.
The most unfortunate aspect to this game is that it gets repetitive. Yes I know this is the kind of complaint that gets thrown at the genre as a whole but with Blade Master it has more to do with the level-design and bosses. This game doesn't wear itself down with ridiculously long stages but there's usually not enough to differentiate stage 6 from stage 1 or 2. This has less to do with the enemies and more with the stage layouts, which do little in the way of traps or other factors that keep things moving. There's the occasional pit and even a section with what looks to be a staircase but it's not enough. The bosses also repeat and just because there are more of them doesn't quite excuse the fact that they're the same guys with the same attacks. Still the game moves very quickly so this complaint never really occurred to me until after I completed the game.
In the end the appeal of Blade Master depends on the player's affinity for the genre. It's easy to write this and similar games off as shallow button-mashers that exist solely to eat quarters and even fans of similar games like TMNT: the arcade game and Capcom's King of Dragons might just ignore this one anyway because it's too obscure. Personally I find it to be a solid title deserving of recognition as it captures all of the aspects that make the genre fun while adding a bit of technique to keep things fresh. Definitely give this a look if you have the time.
Game Rating - 3.5 out of 5
My Rating - 3.5 out of 5