Hello, Nintendo fans, and welcome to a review of another Metroidvania. You’ll be thrilled to know that this one is good, and if you enjoy the Metroidvania genre, you’ll enjoy playing Blast Brigade. Alright, cheers.
What?? You want more?!? Oh, god. Okay. It’s just that there are so many of these games and so little more to say about them. We speak the truth, though, when we deem Blast Brigade to be good. It is a strong effort in all respects and we will endeavour to expand on that forthwith. That means now. Stop looking at this paragraph, it’s in the next one.
In Blast Brigade, you initially take control of one Jeff Jefferson, who seems like a non-infringing version of Deadpool, minus the metahumour. Well, most of the metahumour — Jeff is a wisecracker and there’s a fun breeziness at play throughout the game which makes the proceedings more enjoyable. The comedy here isn’t overplayed, because the focus is resolutely on the gameplay.
Thankfully, said gameplay makes a good impression, with a twin-stick sort of set-up for the shooting, à la Bleed and its sequel. The controls are responsive, the enemies are reactive and, quite frankly, it just feels good to shoot them thanks to the strong feedback and smooth 60fps gameplay. It’s all rather reminiscent of the ever-popular Guacamelee in its visuals and animations, though the moment-to-moment gameplay is more like — whisper it — Metroid Dread, though with a faintly methodical pace. It’s the free aiming that makes the game so challenging -. you can shoot anywhere, but so can enemies, and they’re rather keen to lace the surroundings with dangerous traps and surfaces.
Despite the aforementioned breezy tone, then, Blast Brigade can be rather difficult. Enemies don’t let up and they’re placed to trip you up — we were somewhat surprised to discover ourselves in an area absolutely littered with spiked floors, walls and ceilings within the first half an hour, also populated by a clutch of explosive-spitting giant flowers. It’s rough, especially since death means you drop money and return to the last hammock you rested in (hammocks helpfully acting as save points).
Difficulty is mitigated a touch by the PDA you acquire, allowing you to augment your character with special abilities, such as a coin magnet and additional invincibility time on a hit; that’s surprisingly useful. The trick is that the PDA batteries you find can only power one module at a time, so you can’t just enable them all and become an unstoppable god.
You rescue more members of the Blast Brigade as you play through the game, who essentially act as keys to various gimmick locks you’ll discover, such as the extremely prominent gold hooks that you can’t interact with until you unlock Shura, who is able to use her grappling hook to latch onto them. It’s a little formulaic in that respect, but it’s a formula that works.
The hammocks that act as the “bonfires” (yes, we made a Dark Souls comparison) can be quite far away from one another, which is a source of some frustration; the “boss runs” can be rather lengthy, but the bosses themselves are extremely well-designed and fun to fight. Difficult, but not unfair — though you’ll probably die at least a couple of times to each one.
Blast Brigade’s world delivers what Metroidvania fans want; an expansive, but hostile space full of secrets and collectables. That it does so with more of an identity than most is a good thing, but the fact is that it’s effectively an exercise in box-ticking. There’s nothing wrong with that; when you tick the “make game fun” box, you’re onto a winner. But there’s nothing new here whatsoever. And that’s fine — what’s here may be old, but it’s rather brilliantly executed.
There’s the conundrum with games like Blast Brigade and Metroidvanias in general; the pieces of the puzzle are so often the same that even when it’s done well there can be a sense of ennui. We felt that ennui with Blast Brigade at times, which is unfair because it excels at everything it is trying to do. It’s just that the framework it’s working from is a little tired, which — again — isn’t the game’s fault per se, but has to be noted. Blast Brigade does what it can to make its gameplay fresh, its story and dialogue enjoyable to listen to (the voice acting is terrific fun), and its visuals pop. But it can only go so far.
Blast Brigade is a difficult game to review. It’s a lot of fun and we enjoyed our 20 or so hours with it, mopping up secrets and collectables. We can’t recommend it enough if you’ve still got a hankering for Metroidvanias, but those exhausted with the formula aren’t going to find any major deviations here. Perhaps we would feel differently had the game come out a couple of years ago, but now? Blast Brigade is still a terrific Metroidvania, and one of the best we’ve played outside of the very tippy-top tier (Symphony of the Night, et al). Get it straight away if you even slightly think you will enjoy it, because you almost certainly will. It has the same affection packed into it as the likes of Kaze and the Wild Masks, a real love letter to Metroidvanias. Truly exceptional it isn’t, but Blast Brigade remains a great time if you’re not suffering from genre fatigue.