Following a recent trip to Sandbox's NYC-based PR office, where I visited to go hands-on with their upcoming Pandora’s Box-inspired FPS Legendary, I wondered why I hadn’t heard about "that" game before. Not Legendary—I’ve been following that one since it was announced—but a little game titled X-Blades. When I was offered a demo of the pre-alpha effort, I politely accepted, expecting—given the generic title—I’d be subjected to some lame extreme sports title based on rollerblading or ice-skating. A few minutes later, though, I found myself controlling a blade-wielding, gun-toting hottie through a colorful fantasy-inspired landscape. Cutting a swath through a sea of demonic baddies and ugly ghouls, I seamlessly switched from guns to blades, not unlike Devil May Cry's Dante, while rockin’ some amazing acrobatic feats. I was having a blast with this out-of-nowhere title—where the hell did it come from?
As it turns out, X-Blades was once Oniblade, a promising title without a publisher. One name change and publishing deal (with Monster Madness: Grave Danger's SouthPeak—Sandbox is helping out with PR) later, and we’ve got X-Blades, an anime-styled hack-and-slasher starring Ayumi, a blade-baring babe that could possibly teach Heavenly Sword’s Nariko a few tricks. The hotter-than-hell heroine packs quite a punch behind her Gun Blades—yup, those are sword/gun hybrids she’s wielding—and her rapid-fire moves, including a variety of air-catching leaps, jumps and flips complement gameplay that’s equally fast, furious and fun to watch. Don’t entirely misunderstand; X-Blades is not a big-budget AAA title out to change the face of gaming. In fact, I can already see the reviews comparing it to God of War, Devil May Cry, and any other better-known, well-respected title in the genre. That said, X-Blades looks to be a visceral, hack-heavy action fest, buoyed by some amazing architectural and character designs, that should please any dungeon-crawling gamer.
First thing that'll catch your eyes is the female lead Ayumi. She looks great, not just in the tight-top, bare-midriff sort of way, either. Sure, she’s in a bombshell class with the likes of Lara Croft, but she’s also rendered beautifully, and her slick animations are a huge part of what makes the game a visual stunner—that, and spying her blonde locks as they bounce with amazing realism. Again, like DMC’s pretty-boy protagonist, Ayumi effortlessly blends acrobatics, gunplay and sword-swinging, as she unleashes brutal combos on swarms of relentless mythological monsters. I got the opportunity to take on some celestial baddies that would warp to different areas of the battlefield. While my Gun Blades slowly ticked away at their health bars, I wasn’t able to send them back to hell until I cranked-up X-Blades' other combat mechanic; I quickly learned magic is an important part of Ayumi’s arsenal, as I hurled blazing balls of fire at my ghostly attackers. All the elemental standards—fire, frost, lightning—will be at Ayumi's disposal, as well as teleportation and healing spells.
The developers promise many more magic-based attacks, but won’t release them from their creative cauldron just yet. Spells get assigned to a button and show up on a disc in the left hand corner of the screen. Ayumi’s ass kicking doesn’t stop at the guns, blades and spells, either, as she also builds a rage meter with each executed combo that, when full, deals a devastating, room-clearing attack. Although I didn’t get a peek at any of the game’s bosses, I was told Ayumi will need to utilize all her skills, while also taking a more strategic approach when facing these end-level challenges. Specifically, different spells will figure prominently into sniffing out and taking out the bigger bad guys' weak points. Planning which spells to equip before battle will highlight X-Blades' more cerebral approach to the game’s larger-scale encounters. This hints at a nice blend of adrenaline-pumping hacking, slashing and gunning, cut with more strategically focused fights.
Like the game's fair-haired heroine, X-Blades' levels are gorgeous. The usual genre staples—caves, castles, forests, deserts—are all accounted for, but they're far brighter than in most moody medieval-set games. There’s a clear anime-inspiration, as all areas—even the darker ones—seem to drip with detail and colors. I entered one dungeon-like chamber—a room that'd likely be lit only by torches in similar games—that utilized its few windows as a means to brighten things up a bit. While the dank room was appropriately eerie, I could see a slice of sunlight and some lush foliage through the windows. Cutscenes carry this inspiration even further by actually being fully produced, story-driving anime shorts.
My time with X-Blades was short, but what little I saw certainly holds promise. The gameplay, although familiar, looks to offer a heart-racing romp punctuated by quick, stylish combat and epic boss battles, all complemented by super-stylized art design. I look forward to wielding Ayumi’s Gun Blades and magic again, soon. And hopefully, the next time I see her, her handlers will have chosen a cooler name for her starring vehicle.