You know, I once applied for a job as a Blade Master. It wasn't until after the interview that I realised the job actually involved putting electric fans together on an assembly line. Luckily, I put my crushing disappointment behind me and started VGJUNK, and that means you all get the opportunity to read about Irem's 1991 arcade slash-em-up Blade Master, you lucky devils.
It's a side-scrolling beat-em-up, so let's select our ch... what do you mean, "what's the plot?" I have no idea - the game certainly makes no mention of it. Why don't you have a wild guess? If your guess involved the words "kidnapped" and "woman" then you'd be spot on. It's the default plotline, necessary to get things moving, but I wish once in a while they would replace "kidnapped woman" with "stolen DVD of Batman Returns" or "lost kitten".
So, a lady who is almost certainly either a princess or the girlfriend of one of the heroes gets hauled away by some no-good monsters. Okay, okay, so who wants to go and rescue Princess Girlfriend? Step forward, oh noble heroes!
Blade Master has two playable characters. On the left is Roy, the swordsman and speedster of the pair. One the right is a huge musclebound freak called Arnold, which I'm sure is a reference to something but, dang it, I just can't think what it could be. Arnold has a spear, and he attacks more slowly than Roy. Both Roy and Arnold are dressed in their underpants, as befits a Master of Blades.
Once you've selected your hero, the battle to rescue Princess Girlfriend begins. At least, I assume that's what our heroes are up to and it's not just a huge coincidence that two Blade Masters happened to be walking by.
While the controls are pretty standard (one button to attack and one to jump), the mechanics are at least a little different. Your attacks don't combo together, which feels very strange indeed in a game from this time. So, they can't combo, and now the title Blade Master is starting to sound ironic. However, their training wasn't completely for naught, because they can parry their opponent's attacks, as seen above. If you attack just as the enemy is about to hit you, you block their attack and hit them with a counter of your own. It's a nice touch that adds just a little something extra.
So on you go, along a bridge, fighting orcs or trolls or whatever those things are supposed to be. Whatever they are, they are (rather inconsiderately) wearing thongs:
Not cool, orc dude, and not combat-appropriate. After making your across the bridge for a while, admiring the really rather nice graphics, you reach the first boss.
He's a pretty standard-looking mutant freak, with big claws and eyes sprouting all over his head like acne on a teenage fry cook. Sadly for him, he's an utterly laughable opponent, and if you get in the right position with Arnold you can stab him and he can't reach you, even with his giant claws. It makes you wonder how he got promoted through the monster ranks to occupy the position of "Stage Boss", really. The only thing I can think of is that he just happened to be nearby as the game began, and he was left behind. "Hey, Mutantor!" the orcs cried as they fled with the kidnapped girl, "some guys are coming to stab us to death for kidnapping their girlfriend/princess. Slow 'em down for us, will ya?"
"Wait, what?" Mutantor cries, "No, guys, I'm not ready yet, I've only just joined up, oh God he's got a spear AAAARGGGH!"
Stage two, and more bridges await our heroes. This time, they're guarded by enemies riding what appears to be the "Roton" craft from the He-Man toyline:
Still, a good spearing causes it to explode underneath them, although it's a little disappointing that you can't ride around on one and cackle like Skeletor. There are also birdmen to fight, birds who have given up the power of flight for the much less interesting powers of wearing armour and carrying swords.
They breathe fire, as all good species of birds can, and they sound like they're shouting "Rick!" when you stab them. I'm not sure what to make of that. Is this whole game a case of mistaken identity? "Excuse me, we're looking for Rick, have you AAGH why did you stab me with a spear?!"
Once you've butchered the poor birdmen, it's time to face the boss. He's a big armoured knight with two axes, and well, he's obviously a step up from the previous boss. At least this one can attack me, but it does him no good as I parry his blows and sent him crashing to the ground. Huzzah! The best bit about this is that once he's down, you can jump onto his chest and repeatedly slam your weapon into his vulnerable areas. Okay, that sounds disgusting.
Disgusting as it may be, one you've thrust your blade into him enough times, a creepy insect flies in and offers you a ride on it's back like a taxi driver straight from a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
After a short section of flying through the air and fending off some very serious-looking eagles, you land on yet another bridge. This one has some curiously adorable spiders, though, so that's okay. It's nice to see this kind of racial harmony in the evil mutant army: you would think that having birdmen and spiders work together would lead to an epidemic of soldiers eating their comrades.
The rest of the stage isn't all that interesting, but once you reach the end of the stage, you're confronted with not one, not two, but three big purple monsters who wish for nothing more than your brutal death at their hands.
The older brothers of stage one's boss, perhaps? In a nice touch, you can chop of their limbs and such if you do them enough damage, and like the last boss, you can indeed jump on top of them and pound away. That keeps coming out wrong.
Stage four is next, and to be honest it's pretty dull. At least it doesn't take place on a bridge: no, you have to battle along a series of platforms bolted to the side of a mountain. The only real thing of note is the reappearance of stage one's boss as a regular enemy.
He's no more prepared than they were the first time around. At least the boss is interesting.
The biomechanical look is always one I appreciate, so stage four's boss gets a thumbs up from me. I'm not sure about the physics of where or indeed how the boss is standing, though. Does he even have legs? Is he a hovering torso, and if not, what is he standing on? I guess we'll never know, but I'm going to assume he's wearing a jet-pack. Best of all, he attacks by extending his neck, and due to the way his shoulder is drawn and animated it looks like he's using his arm to winch his head back into place after every attack.
There's a new enemy type in stage five, and the level is swimming with them. Ha ha, geddit? Because they swim. Quite how they swim so gracefully in water that is clearly only knee-deep I don't know, but swim they do. Then they hurl themselves at you with their pointy face. Parry, stab, you know the drill. It's a very short stage, with only flying mermen for company, but stage five is redeemed by it's boss. Pardon my eighties vernacular, but he is kickin' rad.
You wish you were an octopus of this colossal size, and I wish it too. But we're not, and we'll have to struggle on somehow in our inflexible, non-cephalopod bodies. Octoboss has some very cool animated tentacles, but they're not the real problem: your main issue will be with the deformed baby Octoboss hanging out at the front. You see, he can spit water at you. Incredibly damaging water, a splash of which is apparently more painful than a horned fish flying into your mush or getting clobbered with a morningstar. Perhaps if Roy here had worn something more protective than a pair of y-fronts and an ill-fitting sports bra, the water wouldn't be a problem; it might even have been a refreshing change.
In the end, I just assumed that the small Octoboss somehow super-heated the water before he spat it at me, and with that neatly rationalised, I got on with the task of stabbing him to death. Forgive me, Octoboss. You were too cool for this world.
Stage six. Bridges. More bridges. An unending stream of bridges, stretching on into infinity. At least they have new and interesting architecture. There's also an appearance from the world's goofiest chimeras, as seen above. With those bulbous heads and red noses, they look like amusement park mascots that have been fused with a chicken in some terrifying black magic ritual. You can see the gleam of sadness in their eyes as they remember what they used to be, the smiles of the children, the rattle of the rollercoasters... all gone now, dead and gone. Death is the only release.
The stage is short, and features no real surprises. The boss is two Stage Two bosses.
Yay. At least they're different colours. It could be an incredibly frustrating fight, but fortunately whichever Iron Giant you're not kicking the shit out of feels no compulsion to step in and help his partner out, leaving you free to face them one at a time. They're the worst partners since that time I tried to make my hawk and my scorpion team up and solve crimes. Claw Cops: Sting Operation, it was going to be called.
Things rumble on to stage seven, which is almost identical to stage six. The same backgrounds, enemies you've fought before, and a mid-boss. A mid-boss against three of the Armour Knights.
Also, I've just noticed that the Armour Knights are wearing what appears to be a pair of shorts made out of plate armour. You know, for added flexibility and air flow.
After a long and extremely tedious fight against a bunch of recycled enemies, you finally reach the end of the game. It's just a shame that the last two stages were so disappointing: I honestly cannot think of another game where the creators so obviously just gave up as they reached the end. Sad, really. Anyway, Princess Girlfriend is waiting for you at the end.
Hello there! We're here to save you! Wait, what are you doing? Oh, you're transforming into two giant snake women. I see.
Well, there you go. The final boss is two giant snake women in revealing outfits who have swords that can shoot lightning. The battle, while not massively difficult, does go on forever, with the snake ladies groaning suggestively whenever they get hit. If you fancy playing Blade Master and live with the kind of people who worry about suggestive moaning, then you might want to turn the volume down for this fight. Don't let them see you playing it, either, because they will start to think that you have some bizarre sexual fetish involving snakes and you'll be forced to see a psychiatrist who'll ask you all sorts of questions about that trip to the zoo when you were young, and hours later they found you crying in the reptile house.
So, eventually, they get stabbed to death, and Princess Girlfriend is returned to her rightful form.
Huzzah! The princess is saved, and the creepy flying bugs appear and once more whisk our heroes to safety. Then, in a rather odd decision, the entire plot of the game is recounted, in Engrish, over a shot of out heroes flying to safety. It's not quite in the same madness range as Violence Fight, but it has it's moments. Here is is in full:
"When a dark cloud dipped down to the ground, phantom soldiers sprung up from there, captured Princess Emina and coerced her to set their king free from the world of darkness. Only she knew the spells to release and lock up the beast. There the freed King of Darkness transformed Emina into the same figures as his incarnation, a woman with a snake body, and deceived her into attacking her own rescuers, Roy and Arnold. Both heroes perceived his wicked trick though, and realized that the only way to change Emina back to her original shape was to knock out the evil one who was using black magic on her. After a fierce fight, they finally defeated him and saved Emina, who then chanted a spell and shut him up again. When he was thus made powerless, his vicious army turned into a huge flame and appeared to have disappeared, leaving only grey ashes behind. Before his castle also collapsed and vanished like a mirage, Emina, Roy and Arnold had narrowly escaped and returned to the peaceful world of white light."
I can't quite decide what the best part of this heroic ode is, but it's either "chanted a spell and shut him up again", which makes it sound like Emina scolded the King of Darkness into silence, or "appeared to have disappeared". I'd love to see this method of storytelling become commonplace in mainstream media. Imagine an action movie, where Vin Diesel and Jason Statham battle it out for an hour and a half, with absolutely no communication between them or any other member of the cast. Then, just before the final credits, a voiceover reads a badly-written script explaining the events of the movie you've just watched, and suddenly it all makes sense. A hard sell for the studios, sure, but an visionary artistic decision that will echo through the ages!
Blade Master's problem is fairly obvious. It starts off rather well, with nice graphics and good music, an interesting take on the standard SSBEU combat and lots of nice little touches, like being able to break the enemies' shields and Roy's attacks leaving trails in the water in stage five. They, the staff clearly just... stopped bothering. Perhaps it was a deadline issue, and the game needed to be put out right then, or maybe they just ran out of ideas. Blade Master is like those gigantic lollipops you used to get from the seaside as a kid: great fun at first, and different enough to be interesting, but after a while you realise it's just the same flavour all the way through and you start getting sick of it. That said, I can't hold a grudge against a game that features a giant octopus, so I guess Blade Master is alright by me.
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