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When most people hear the word "bleach" they probably think of the chemical whitener often used to clean white-colored laundry and keep it looking bright and like new. Anime fans, however, are undoubtedly familiar with the Bleach manga and television series, the former of which has sold more than 50 million copies in Japan alone and the latter of which has become one of the most popular programs on Cartoon Network in the United States. While several video games released on this intellectual property have been released in Japan, Bleach games have only recently started to make their way over to North America. One of the first was a Nintendo DS game subtitled The Blade of Fate, which believe it or not was developed by Treasure (Gunstar Heroes, Sin and Punishment).
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Considering the pedigree of the development staff, one would certainly expect the gameplay to be fast, furious and action-packed. Thankfully, Bleach: The Blade of Fate delivers. This is a high-octane weapons-based fighter much in the vein of the Neo Geo classic Samurai Showdown, only arguably even more intense. Each battle consists of at least two and as many as four different combatants, and players can choose from more than two dozen characters from the anime featured, including lead character Ichigo Kurosaki, Renji Abarai, Ganju Shiba, Orihime Inoue, Yasutora Sado and Uryu Ishida. In addition, there are three selectable difficulty levels and several modes of play available, including story mode, arcade mode, training, survival and challenge mode, and even online play via the Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection. Also, in an interesting gameplay twist, players can purchase, collect and build a deck of what are called Spirit Cards. When used in combat, these Spirit Cards trigger different time-limited special effects that can help the player or hurt their opponent in a variety of ways, including boosting attack or defense, or even allowing for recovery.
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Controls are very important when it comes to a fast-paced twitch action game like this, and once again, Bleach: The Blade of Fate delivers the goods. Movement is easy using the directional pad, and pressing twice in either the left or right direction allows you to dash. Pushing up allows you to jump, while doing so twice executes a double jump, and you can even execute a dash while in mid-air. Pushing down, meanwhile, causes your character to crouch. There are three primary attack buttons (A, X and Y) as well as a guard button (R), and attacks can be delivered while jumping or crouching down. Best of all, there are special and super attacks which can be utilized either by inputting a long combination of button presses (if you're a purist) or by simply tapping the appropriate button on the touch screen (if you're looking for an easier experience or, like me, you're getting older and your reflexes are starting to go). As a big fan of such customization in video games, I am indescribably pleased to see this feature included. No doubt that this is an A-plus effort all the way from the folks at Treasure.
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Graphics and Sound
One thing that's immediately noticeable is that there's a Japanese styled pop song that plays during the game's intro. Admittedly, I'm unfamiliar with the Bleach anime, but I assume this is the proper theme song to the television program, in which case it will certainly please fans of the franchise. Beyond that, the game features a series of hard-rock tracks that fit the style of the game quite nicely, and sound great even through the DS's built in speaker as well. In-game graphics are sharp as well, and the sprites are fairly large and detailed. It's a bit of a shame that the story sequences are told using static character portraits, but on the whole, that's a relatively minor gripe. It's a snazzy-looking 2D DS fighter with a quality soundtrack, and that's easily worth four stars in this reviewers book.
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While I can’t say that I enjoyed the plot or the writing all too much, or even understood much of it for that matter, the fact is that you don't need to be a die-hard Bleach fan to enjoy The Blade of Fate. Anime license or no anime license, this is a solid and suitably deep fighting game from a company that knows how to lovingly craft high-tempo, fast-paced action titles. The gameplay and graphical quality of this game alone is enough to make it worth a purchase, especially now that it has lowered in price at most locations and should be available for under $20. Even for those of us who aren't fans of the manga books or the TV series, Bleach: The Blade of Fate is another top notch effort by Treasure and is most worthy of a four-star rating. However, if you happen to be a fan of Bleach, go ahead and tack on an extra star to the rating, because you will simply adore this high quality DS brawler.