The fact that Wonder Blade was a game originally released in 2018 on ios and was developed by only a single person is quite impressive. A couple years have passed since then and it is primed to make the leap to home consoles, however with that jump also comes a big leap in expectations.
Starting off with the graphics, they are a joy to look at but anyone who is familiar with Castle Crashers will be able to immediately tell you where the biggest inspiration, motivation, rip off or whatever you want to call it comes from. Pushing that aside, I can’t say enough about how vibrant this game looks and how well it made the leap to high def resolutions. Sprites are cute and expressive, backgrounds are detailed and layered and even the UI elements pop with a suitable vibrancy. Resembling another work so closely is not necessarily a bad thing when the source is so easy on the eyes and the replication is done with such care and attention to detail.
The comparisons to Castle Crashers should end there as even though the gameplay is similar, that happens to be the way that the genre has functioned from the time when gamers of the late 80s/early 90s would crowd around stand up arcade cabinets. You hack and slash at anything that moves while making your way from left to right in the level. Splash in a little bit of leveling, magic use and currency collection and you have something that is altogether familiar while at the same time nothing more or less than what you would expect from any game in the genre.
The nice thing is that the sheer amount of variety in collectibles that you can work towards unlocking will really appeal to those people looking for a reason to keep playing. The currency you collect can be used to purchase consumable potions, weapons or costumes from the merchants found in the game or even in the menu to unlock mini-pets. These companions are simply aesthetic stat sticks who unfortunately don’t assist in battle or gathering collectibles for you but can still give you that little boost might need in defense for example to pass the next boss.
My biggest complaint with these collectibles or even the upgrades obtained with leveling up is that they need to be selected from a menu on the main title screen, meaning that you have to constantly exit out of the game almost entirely whenever you want to allocate some attribute points or see what passive benefit a recently unlocked outfit will provide. Not having menu that you can do this in on the pause screen or even between level map and making me see multiple load screens just to see that my new cheese costume increased food drop rates is a huge mistake.
The single biggest misstep holding this title back is the fact that the move from ios to console did not bring with it coop gameplay. There is so much grinding to be done if you want to unlock everything and doing so with friends would make it so much more enjoyable. Of course, it’s fun the first time you come across the Street Fighter inspired bonus stage that tasks you with destroying a car for bonuses but eventually the mystique is gone. While the levels aren’t overly long and change it up from time to time with some self scrolling riding levels, there is only so long that you can mash buttons before you lose interest.
Another problem is that there is a lot of animated blood when defeating and executing enemies that contradicts the cute visual style. This makes it a bit of a tougher sell for younger audiences that might otherwise really enjoy a game that basks in its simplicity. Even just a simple option to turn the blood off would make the game much easier for parents to be comfortable with their youngsters playing.
Wonder Blade is absolutely a well made game that anyone can boot up and have fun with for a few hours. The issue however is that with the blood it’s tough to recommend to children, the lack of coop really hurts its chance at longevity and the existence of games like the one that inspired it push it down on the priority list.