While many gamers enjoy big-name AAA video game titles packed to the brim with cutting-edge features, there's still something to be said for smaller games that aim to do one thing and do it well. It's one of the core principles behind most hit mobile and handheld games, but that doesn't mean developers for other platforms can't make use of the same design philosophy. After all, sometimes cutting the fat results in a product that's altogether more enjoyable, and such seems to be the thought process behind Strikers Edge, the debut title from indepedent developer Fun Punch Games. It's basically a twin-stick dodgeball title, but instead of non-fatal rubber balls, players are tasked with taking down their opponents using a variety of edged weaponry. The core gameplay is simple, but don't be fooled: Strikers Edge presents a fairly hardcore challenge that will surprise some and potentially turn away others.
The biggest standout in Strikers Edge is not its distinct retro-inspired visual aesthetic or its pulse-pounding soundtrack, it's the core gameplay itself. This is a game that's put all of its eggs in one basket, so to speak, banking solely on its medieval-inspired dodgeball gameplay. The formula is straightforward: there's one player on each side of the arena, a line down the middle that neither can cross, and both players are tasked with depleting the other player's hit points.
If it sounds simple, that's because it is, but there are a few tweaks that help keep things interesting. Players can dodge incoming hits by pressing the left trigger or block strikes by pressing the left bumper. Moving and aiming are achieved with the joysticks, and the right trigger can be used for a charged attack, while the right bumper provides a secondary attack for charged-up hits. Right at the outset, the basic control scheme in Strikers Edge becomes second nature, and that's a good thing, because the gameplay otherwise can quickly become quite challenging.
Moving and aiming with joysticks are core components to just about any game, but that's not to say the two are always easy to manage. Strikers Edge is on the more difficult side of this continuum — it's not that the controls are loose or imprecise in any way, it's just that it's really quite difficult to hit a moving target with a spear or an axe. It involves thinking about the player's own position, where they're aiming, and how long their weapon will take to get there, to say nothing of incoming attacks or environmental hazards.
That still might not sound like a steep challenge, but in the heat of battle, it's pretty hard to get a lock on the opponent. This difficulty curve is compounded by objects on the battlefield — some provide a barricade to ward off incoming attacks, but others cause damage to the player or even block outgoing attacks. The most effective players will have to actively manage their position, their aim, and their strategy, all at the same time.
Think Before You Spear
Strategy is key to getting ahead in Strikers Edge, and the key to a good strategy here is proper use of the game's different power-ups. There are eight available characters to choose from, each of which having his or her own distinct abilities. For instance, the charged attack of the valkyrie Eir leaves a scorched trail in its wake that players can toggle with the right bumper. If the attack misses its target, the trail still leaves behind a potentially-damaging boundary layer that the opponent must avoid.
It's roughly the same story with other characters: Galad has a charged attack that leaves a shock-inducing weapon lodged in the rear wall, while the ninja Haru has a charged attack that allows him to dash across the center line to land an additional hit. More than these, characters also have block bonuses: Eir can regain HP when blocking an incoming hit, while Galad can reflect the weapon back at the attacker.
Beyond these abilities, there are also limits to the number of blocks that can be made, and a tiny little stamina bar keeps things on the level by preventing players from simply spamming attacks. All considered, these elements combine to create a gameplay formula that can become challenging even on the Normal difficulty setting. Each character has their own strengths, and overcoming those strengths means thinking not only about your own strategies, but also the opponent's strategy. It's not easy, but that's fine; strong players enjoy strong challenges, after all. That said, the action might come off as being a little too tough in general, especially for players that usually keep to more slowly-paced games.
Rounding Out The Package
There's a reason why the primary focus of this review has been the core gameplay to Strikers Edge: aside from battles, there's essentially nothing else to the game. There is an included campaign mode that gives just a hint of a story, but the entire campaign is over in just four battles no matter which character is chosen. There's also local multiplayer as well as an online mode, the likes of which offers players the chance to dive into either 1v1 or 2v2 matches, and the developers included a tutorial mode to help players learn the ropes. Aside from the PC version's built-in Twitch integration as well as stats and options menus, there's really nothing else on offer.
As such, the inherent value to Strikers Edge will depend entirely on how much players connect with the title's dodgeball-meets-weapons gameplay. It's fast, frantic, and quite fun overall, but the surprisingly steep challenge and general lack of variety might have players moving on after only a matter of hours.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Strikers Edge released on January 30 and is currently available for digital download via Steam and the PlayStation Network for $14.99. The game has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB.