Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bleach: Soul Carnival

Earlier this year I complained about the PSP's conspicuous lack of quality fighting games. Developers are skipping out on what I perceive as an obvious opportunity to bring "versus fighting" and side-scolling brawler titles to Sony's tough, little machine. As if in response to my woes, this autumn saw the release of Marvelous Entertainment's Ikkitousen: Eloquent Fist (a somewhat prurient, sprite-based Final Fight clone), and the subject of this quasi-review, Bleach: Soul Carnival.

Because of my past disappointments with Bleach games on the PSP, I was initially attracted to Soul Carnival because of what it appeared not to be: Another chapter in the overly simplified Heat the Soul fighting series. But, as it turns out, Sony's Soul Carnival deserves all the credit in the world just for being what it is: Fun (if occasionally mindless) platform/beat-em-up action framed by a comfortable amount of character management, item synthesis and a mercifully small amount of dialog.

This game embraces Bleach's relatively large cast of supporting characters by introducing them as playable and/or support units (like an improved, deeper version of the card system in the Bleach DS series). The player can then use the character of his choice, flanked by any combination of assistants, to rampage through levels and cut down all the resident thugs.

Said rampaging is made fun via smooth, fast controls and character graphics that aren't quite sprites, yet aren't quite cel-shaded 3D models. In fact, I literally haven't been able to figure out how the character graphics are rendered yet...but I have a feeling it's something akin to the free-rotational sprite system used in Sega Sammy's The Rumble Fish. What ever it is, it looks nice, if you don't mind the munchkinized "chibi" design that's been forced on all the characters.

My only major gripe with the game is its clumsy, poorly-designed menu interface, which becomes an obstacle when you're trying to equip your playable characters with accessories and support buddies. Years of gaming experience tell me that I should be able to switch characters in the menu by pressing the shoulder buttons. Alas, obvious as it may seem, no such function exists. Ignoring that, however, Bleach: Soul Carnival is just what the PSP's sparse fighting library needed.

Below is a YouTube video I found with some decent footage from early in the game. Skip the first minute to get straight to the fun part.

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