Britannia. 120 AD. After Celtic warrior queen Boadicea bloodied the nose of the great Roman Empire, the Ninth Legion marched north in retaliation to repress the remaining tribes. Strong in arm and stout of heart, in Wulverblade, it falls to you to defend your homeland from the unrelenting Roman army.
With Wulverblade, developer Fully Illustrated has looked to bring back the glory days of Golden Axe, Sengoku, and Knights of the Round, as you heroically, or perhaps maniacally, charge your way across blood-drenched battlegrounds set around northern Britannia.
As members of a family that had originated in the northern tribe of the Caledonii, you can choose to play as Caradoc, Brennus, or Guinevere, who, while all equally as fierce as one another, can be relied on for either their all-around prowess in combat, overpowering strength, or agility and speed to overwhelm their invaders.
Guardians of the most northerly tribes of Britannia for generations, it will come as no surprise that they are particularly ferocious in battle. You can rely on your standard attack (Y Button) to swing your sword with reckless abandon, performing strong attacks (X Button) that can cleanly decapitate your enemies, blocking with your shield (A Button) can help prevent you taking damage, and jumping (B Button) or running (L or R Button) can inelegantly help you get free from a spot of bother.
As you carve a bloody path through your opponents in Wulverblade, there are also other moves that you can call on to aid your survival against the odds. These are listed in-game, but those include an uppercut, knock back, roll, ground slam, grapple, and a special attack, which consumes some of your health but calls on lightning to attack everyone around you.
When an enemy is knocked down they can become dazed, a chance for you to wander over and brutally execute them. Then there’s Rage, which, once the respective gauge has filled from attacking and executing enemies, will make you temporarily invulnerable while your attacks become faster and deadlier. The heavy weapons, throwing daggers, hammers, and limbs that enemies leave behind can be picked up and used. And then, once per level, you can summon wolf companions to your aid that rush your enemies and gnaw them apart.
It is important to take the time that is necessary to learn all the gameplay mechanics at play in Wulverblade, as your quest for freedom can often feel insurmountable. The Campaign mode lets you choose whether to play on Normal with checkpoints, save states, and the chance to continue at any time, or Arcade which limits you to just three lives and three continues.
The eight levels, however, are relatively long, which can make it feel like your odds of survival are never really in your favour. Ranged attacks are the bane of your existence, health recovery items are often scarce, and you readily become surrounded by enemies that you never seem to have enough of a chance to react to their attacks. Throw in a second player, though, and diverting the attention of your enemies bolsters your chance to succeed.
Those that simply want to take on waves of enemies will enjoy Arenas mode, where you choose your battleground from the several available and see what score you can rack up to gain a spot on the leaderboard. There are different hazards to watch out for here, such as an open fire, spikes, falling bombs, or explosive barrels.
Wulverblade is steeped in historical research, too. With facts, folklore tales, letters, diary entries, and field trip reports to collect and read in-game, creative director Michael Heald writes on each how he is highly passionate about ancient British history and, over a five year period, has worked hard to research everything. While there is a disclaimer that neither Michael or the team are qualified historians, there is a fascinating amount of detail to read through and become engrossed by.
With the game’s tale told through captivating animated shorts, the artistic direction to Wulverblade equally impresses as does the soundtrack, too. This, the developer revealed, has come from sound designers that have worked on The Dark Knight Rises and Wrath of the Titans, with everything collectively coming together to build what is an oustanding cinematic experience.
That makes your quest for freedom in Wulverblade a memorable one, and while some balancing is needed to make it less of a frustrating experience and more one to be wholly savoured, it’s hard not to come to appreciate everything that this brutal, historical retelling has to offer.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Darkwind Media