Schhwingsplat: Bladeless Is Minimalist Swordfighting Glee

By Nathan Grayson on May 21st, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Ow! Blade, stop belying me!

I’m pretty sure Bladeless‘ title is wrong. Based on the number of heads I saw fly (many of which were mine), I feel pretty safe in saying that there are, in fact, blades. Either that or they don’t build unnervingly silent samurai monsters like they used to. But then, in this economy… Anyway. Bladeless’ focus is on briefly telegraphed attacks and split-second reactions. It’s hardly the most original formula ever (Hello, Punch-Out, every game that’s ripped off Punch-Out), but Bladeless’ side-scrolling duel setup and utterly sublimeĀ feel put it head and shoulders above the rest. At least, until a lightning strike katana slice trims off those conveniently exposed extremities.

Bladeless’ basic setup is so to-the-point that I couldn’t not indulge in an excruciatingly obvious sword pun. You walk forward. That’s it. There’s no jumping or block-pushing or powers. There’s barely even a background. Eventually, you meet another sword with a cloaked man attached, and you both quickly decide to not be friends.

There are three basic stances you have to account for, but picking a corresponding block/counter in time is tougher than you’d think. It took me a few tries to get it just right, partially due to a control scheme that maps counters where you’d expect (up arrow is high counter, down is low, etc), but isn’t consistent on blocks (A is high block, D is low block, etc). I found it a bit disorienting at first, but it didn’t keep me on the fringes for long – especially after I discovered I could both block and counter on A,S, and D. It was, admittedly, the less natural of the two key setups, but it got the job done.

Once I got into the flow of combat, Bladeless became an oddly rhythmic experience. There’s a certain nail-biting anticipation to each sword draw, and the resulting pitter-patter pattern of clangs, counters, and sickening slices is an excellent payoff. Truth be told, I didn’t find much in the way of progression (enemies stop getting tougher around the tenth), but that graceful loop of savage violence and fleeting serenity kept me hooked. I’m usually the guy that posts about cryptic, artsy story games, but I love stripped-down, compulsive mechanics like these. They’re very nearly primal.

Again, there’s not really a whole lot of content in Bladeless (and I’d kill for more, or a multiplayer mode at the very least), but it’s an impressive morsel nonetheless. Also, replays yield some neat elements of randomization, so it’s not quite as bleak and empty as its art style seems to suggest. Try it. You’ll probably move onto something else after 15 minutes or so, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be back.

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15 Comments »

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  1. Mr. Mister says:

    I managed to reach eleventh as well, but is there any indication of which counter you should pick?

    Also why 2 swords…

    Funny though: I just watched Ninja Action ( http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/617271 )1 and 2 on Newgrounds, so I was ready for more ninja stu- OK, OK, these were Samurai.

    • mOrs says:

      Yes, there is: opponents angle their swords according to which attack they will do next.

      • Mr. Mister says:

        That’s blocking, I can see that. But it is countering that I’m not usre about… or is it just automatic and you jsut have to keep blocking until you slip past their block?

        • mOrs says:

          Ah, my bad, misread that! Seems just random to me… Else it’d probably be too easy I think.

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      Harlander says:

      Two swords was a pretty common fightway back in the eld-times. A big sword to hit the other guy with, and a little one to deflect his sword, to simplify somewhat.

      • mondomau says:

        Only after this chap came along.
        http://www.musashi-miyamoto.com/niten-ichi-ryu.html

        • Aedrill says:

          He’s talking about wakizashi, not two katanas, although the bloke in the game looks like he’s got two katanas, so yeah, little bit Musashi like.

          • diamondmx says:

            Assuming the link given is accurate, Musashi used a Katana + Wakazashi, not 2 katana

      • Syra says:

        You would carry a katana and a tanto or wakasashi for combat and a backup katana for if you are disarmed. Samurai being heavier and less agile couldnt rely on being able to jump about to pick it back up right away.

  2. baozi says:

    There was this free Shockwave game of Samurai Jack where you undergo a bunch of trials (mini games). The pole fighting trial was basically like this, sans the walking. (It also was a bit better executed, both visually, and how the telegraphing works/looks.) Loved it!

  3. kulik says:

    Minimalistic to a point that it is not very fun, at least when you play against computer, it is totally random.
    Do anyone here played Wild West Online? Two wild west gunslingers having a duel. It was something similar, kind of rock paper scissors, you had to outsmart your opponent by getting into his head and anticipate his choices or trick him into wrong ones. Plus, it had lots of content like different items, consumables, three classes, perks, you had to reload… I don’t know if somebody is still playing though.

  4. Shadrach says:

    I had not a chance in hell at this… getting too old I guess, reaction time like a turtle…

  5. Aedrill says:

    OK, it’s bloody stupid. If you’re late and press, say middle block, when the opponent is already attacking you often stay with middle block afterward without a chance to change it, which means one mistake equals two mistakes. It’s really annoying.

  6. Arglebargle says:

    Bushido Blade for the win….

    Or something like that. Pretty much spoiled me for most other fighting games. Very much about the use of Maia, or entering technique. Sounds like this may be worth looking into.