Blade Kitten is based on a weekly webcomic of the same name.  The comic is sort of a send-up to anime coolness, featuring giant robots, big explosions, and a smart-mouthed part-feline heroine.  And that’s all just in the first episode!  (Cue “ching!” sound effect.)

Blade Kitten – the game – makes a pleasant enough first impression.  Pretty cel-shaded visuals and decent-quality voice and sound give the notion that if the game lives up to its production values, it’s going to be quite good.  And in the early going, you’re likely to be quite impressed.  BK takes shape as a 2D platformer with 3D graphics – not a 2.5D game like Shadow Complex, as there’s no way to actually interact with things in the background.  Kit Ballard, the plucky pink-furred protagonist, has quite a handy assortment of platforming tactics in hand, including double-jumps, clinging to (most) walls and ceilings, sprinting and long-jumping, and targeted jumps when appropriate.  Kit can also use her psychically directed sword at either close or long range, though the latter consumes stamina.  You’ll have all these abilities from the start – there’s no Metroid-style unlock/replay backtracking going on here.  Typically, secret areas in the levels are given away by visual and/or audio cues, so if you don’t get to one, it means you just didn’t find its access, not that you were lacking a requisite ability.

In a way, this highlights one of BK’s flaws; there’s very little real sense of progression.  There is an in-game store which you’ll unlock quite early in the first level, which allows you to purchase new swords (up to a total of 4), new outfits, and upgrade Kit’s health and stamina (used for sprints and some other activities).  It’s just that none of this changes the feel of the game much, if at all.  Kit’s starting sword, the Free Blade, is more than adequate to deal with any enemies you’ll encounter on your trek through the game’s 5 levels; purchasing any or all of the alternate versions really gives you more a different set of visual and sound effects than some needed element.  Improving your health and (especially) stamina is certainly nice, but again, there’s very little in the game that requires /any/ stat upgrading to defeat.   It is refreshing to be served up with /all/ your potential abilities unlocked off the mark, but disappointing that so little in the game offers a challenge relevant to your level of ability.  Of course, Kit is the conquering heroine in her native comic strip, so perhaps this could be considered true to the source material.  It’s just odd that the most desirable things in the store just might be the outfits.

BK’s initial scenes are all about the on-foot platforming, but soon enough you’ll be introduced to your two supporting characters:  Skiffy, a pint-sized sidekick who can capture distant Hex (the game’s currency) and allow you to pass certain specific points in a level with a button press; and the Noot, a chocobo-influenced riding beast who grants you improved speed for the obligatory chase scenes and can smash through walls with a head-ram move.  The Noot sections of the game do provide a break from slower-moving on-foot platforming, though quite often you’ll want to dismount and carefully search an area, especially its upper parts, for hidden Hex and collectibles.  In a nice touch, you can dismount while the Noot is jumping to allow you a sort of triple jump that’ll bring into reach some secrets you couldn’t otherwise access.

With a nifty psy-tech sword, you’d expect Blade Kitten to serve up some fun, challenging foes.  Sadly this is almost never the case.  Your most common enemies are identical red-suited cannon fodder who look suspiciously like a certain highly popular space marine (or maybe combat armor just looks generic?).  Most of these enemies will just shout repetitive one-liners (some of which are admittedly pretty funny, but lose their luster after you’ve heard them an interminable number of times) and slowly shoot at Kit, who takes very little damage from a shot even if she is hit.  Kit can also block almost any attack by using her Sword Grab move, which also allows her to stick to un-climbable surfaces and (occasionally) perform a cinematic one- hit kill on enemies.  The grab animation kill awards extra Hex compared to simply slicing and dicing, but it doesn’t work consistently enough for you to try it regularly.  Sometimes you will encounter an enemy with a few melee moves in his arsenal rather than just the plain-jane laser rifle, but these too are all too quickly dispatched.  Oddly, you’ll sometimes walk into an area which isn’t peopled by enemies, but then they’ll mysteriously be there seconds later.  It’s not pop-in, they appear in areas just off the screen; you just wonder why they weren’t there before.  If the red-suits were at all challenging, this might be cause for cries of “Cheese!”  As it is, it’s just an annoyance in the worst of cases.  Death in BK typically results far more frequently from one-hit kill environmental hazards than anything the enemies can do.

That’s one other niggle I have to point out about Blade Kitten.  The controls are often quite imprecise, with Kit sometimes responding near-instantly to inputs, but showing painfully evident lag at others.  The sluggish control response isn’t even linked to enemy or event density on-screen when it happens; it just seems somewhat random.  Kit has a fairly lengthy skid/stop animation when changing directions during a sprint; when this stacks with control lag, it can result in a death that feels somewhat unfair.  There aren’t limited lives, however; you just restart at the last save point you triggered, making these deaths just one more example of how the game really isn’t that challenging.  I suppose for some, that simplicity might be a fine way to just check your brain and enjoy a little mindless fun, but lack of depth and challenge also robs the game of much sense of accomplishment when completed.  It feels more like a test of patience than skill.

Don’t think from these criticisms that Blade Kitten is all bad.  It’s quite well-presented for the most part, with only the limited, repetitive enemy dialog being an audio annoyance.  (The music’s also repetitive, but does at least amp up when you’re fighting someone or interacting with a dangerous obstacle.  In the worst of cases you can play a custom soundtrack off your HDD.)  The main character does benefit from a nice spate of platforming and fighting abilities, which make exploring the levels a more interesting quest than simply finding enemies to fight.  The problem is, what you play of Blade Kitten feels like a nice intro section to a good overall game… but you never progress /beyond/ that sense of “playing an intro.”  There’s too little to challenge the player and keep them interested; level exploration can pall if there isn’t a good action backdrop to keep you involved.  The most interest you’re likely to find in BK is the smattering of cutscenes in each level, typically involving a brief interaction between Kit and a prisoner or other extra.  The plot never really feels like it takes off, despite a few corny twists, and by the end of the game – a cliffhanger, since Blade Kitten is planned as the first of an episodic series – you might find it hard to care what comes next.

I can and do happily give BK’s creators full marks for playing fairly accurately to its source material.  Kit rarely misses a chance to drop a wisecrack, and her voice-over when finding a hidden treasure is suitably young and leet-speak influenced.  In fact, this may give clues as to BK’s target audience; it may be better as a kids’ game than an adventure for all ages.  Some of the humor on display may be a bit beyond the really young folks, though, so it’s easier to assume based on evidence that Krome Studios simply set too high a mark for themselves, and while they put their production chops out there for all to see, the game to back it up just didn’t quite deliver.  Krome did get the feel and presentation of its saucy heroine about right, and at least a little world-building is done through Blade Kitten’s sparse storyline.  It’s not a game I can easily recommend for purchase; try the demo and see if you like it.  Just be aware that, if you do purchase the full retail product, you’ll be getting absolutely the same thing as in the demo, just more of it.  That said, fans of the comic have almost certainly had it since launch day.

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Gameplay / Controls (3/5) — Odd control sluggishness at random times detracts from fun factor, as does lack of challenge.

Graphics (3/5) — A strong showing overall, just nothing standout.

Sound (2/5) — Simple, repetitive soundtrack and all enemies use the same voice samples.

Replay Value (1/5) — Unfortunately, it’s hard to get and stay involved with Blade Kitten, meaning you probably won’t want to go through it again.

Entertainment (2/5) — Most of the fun value here is in the protagonist’s personality, not the game itself; sure sign of missed potential.

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* Title : Blade Kitten

* Format : XBLA, PSN, PC

* Developer : Krome Studios

* Publisher : Atari

* Release Date : 9/20/10

* Players : 1

REVIEW SCORE:  (2.20/5)