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Review: Blade Kitten

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

This is a review I did for the kind folk over at zConnection in the UK, you should check them out! They taste like motherland.

Blade Kitten, the latest installment from Australia’s Krome Studios introduces us to Kit Ballard, a genetically engineered human/cat hybrid known as a Felion. Kit is a unique kind of bounty hunter called a ‘Breaker’ and the game follows her journey through the synthetic shell-like planetoid of Hollow Wish. The Blade Kitten universe originated in comic form, from which the game heavily borrows it’s anime-inspired art style. Kit jumps, flips, climbs, slides, and ground pounds her way through the cavernous depths and the tallest towers of this vividly detailed, very pretty 2D platformer, with the help of her friends Skiffy and Noot. As you travel various enemies such as slugs, space marines, droids, giant snails, Squamatans and Darques all try and get in the way of Kit’s main goals – the rapid acquisition of moolah… and to a lesser extent survival.

It’s narrative is a little thin, you don’t get a lot of background into what is going on and you hit the ground running with your first quest. Even before knowing who Kit is, why Kit is, and what she’s doing on this planet you are caught up in a catty (Ohhh pun-a-licious!) bitch fight that leads to your first mission. The lack of story telling early on can feel a little uneasy as Kit travels the land without being solidly grounded in an explicit context. Even after finishing the game I’m not 100% sure on what just happened. The gist of the narrative appears to be “Land on planet, find moneys (known as Hex), and kill anyone that tries to kill you”. Occasionally you see a glimpse of a bigger story going on, but it’s not explored enough to inspire a rabid, slobbering “all else ceases to exist” all night play-through. The narrative is somewhat wandering, uncertain of where it’s going, and this lack of immersive detail is a major roadblock to really losing yourself in Ballard’s universe. On the flip side, this means light hearted fun that a player can just jump into without needing to know a million things and also means levels can be played individually without needing any back story or introduction.

Gameplay wise Kit was fun and agile as hell. She’s very nimble and bouncy, and as her feline features may suggest, can fall from fairly great heights without too much hassle. She climbs walls and roofs with ease and the controls aren’t too tricky to master. She has a health bar, that rejuvenates automatically from almost empty to full in about 6 seconds of inactivity, so you don’t have to worry about health packs or potions or any of the sort. This health bar and the stamina bar can both be extended to give you more vigor and energy by purchases in the store, using ‘Hex’ you’ve acquired along the way. Small combos and special moves make this especially appealing for consoles as opposed to PC, as it can get a little button mashy at times as a tip of the hat to the 2D fighting games we all know and love.
One of Kit’s companions is Noot, a ridable creature with large hind legs and a head useful for smashing through roadblocks. Skiffy is an adorable floating Kirby-esque fetching-buddy handy for retrieving Hex from the background and foreground where you can’t access it yourself, and the occasional switch flicking. Combat is basically swiping with your levitating blade at close range, long range, and thrusting it into the ground through a very Mario-like ‘ground pound’, helping to stun and bring the pain. Blade Kitten has nailed the light newcomer-friendly hack and slash, and has just the right amount of cute to attract a cult following, especially of younger gamers.

Pardon me as I don my editorial hat, but I feel two small realisations I had while playing this game need to be pointed out. I started playing this game thinking I would be playing some spunky anime cat-girl kick-arse bounty hunter, instead I found a watered down bounty finder. She isn’t a contract killer, or an assassin. She just tries to stumble upon as much bounty as possible and goes on fetch quests to do so. She’s a loot fiend, and rarely is this loot earned from boss fights or battles with lesser minions. She doesn’t die. She just “fails” and falls to her knees saying “Ohhh no” or “Oh fail” (Cue cringing that almost left permanent marks on my face). I started feeling patronised. Like it was trying to appeal specifically to girls, or more accurately, what they thought girls wanted.
A wave of condescension washed over me as I heard our protagonist exclaim “You’re off my friends list!” and “Win get!” before adopting the “squee” stance. She even blew a kiss to the Sheriff to avoid going to jail… Bleugh. The space marine enemies scream out “It’s just a girl!” in an attempt to inflame our competitive instincts and virtually get back at all those nasty boys that have been big fat meanies over in-game chat. There were times I found it almost unbearable. She has only four weapons but eleven outfits.
But then I had my second realisation. I was taking it way too seriously. This is not the strong multi-dimensional female character we’ve all been waiting for, this is not some ground breaking game trying to appeal to girls and it will not be topping the charts for weeks on end due to it’s riveting layered storytelling – it’s just a bit of fun. While it didn’t tick all my boxes, Blade Kitten was still a relatively good time. It’s not the next big thing, the narrative was sometimes treated like something that if held for too long might burn you. It’s not going to make Krome a billionty dollars but it’s a playful, silly, very pretty and bubbly place to be. I may not be it’s target audience but my experience in Hollow Wish was a darn sight better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. I might even go back and get some more achievements. Maybe.

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