Wulverblade feels like a game made for two wildly different audiences. On one hand, it’s an over-the-top, cartoonishly violent beat-’em-up that harks back to the likes of Golden Axe; on the other, it’s a game steeped in fascinating real-world history, with a wealth of information to share. But to developer Fully Illustrated’s credit, these seemingly disparate elements come together beautifully, and the result is a very impressive game indeed.
Set in 120 AD at the height of the Roman Empire, Wulverblade offers a glimpse into the efforts of Caledonia (modern-day Scotland) to resist occupation by the Roman Ninth Legion. Armed with their swords, brawn, and the ability to summon wolves, three Caledonian warriors make it their business to send the Romans back to Britannia with their tails between their legs.
That nicely sets up the game’s brawler action, as it pits you against hordes of Roman soldiers and subjugated clans. Combat itself is surprisingly deep, with a wide range of different moves at your disposal. Light and heavy attacks are a given, but the ability to guard and parry is something of a rarity in this genre. You’ve also got a shockwave attack that’s great for pushing back crowds, evasive rolls, and a few different dashing and jumping attacks. When fully charged, a super meter lets you go into an invincible frenzy state, and once per level you can call a pack of wolves to treat through your foes.
If you want to succeed at Wulverblade, you’ll need to make full use of all of these abilities. On Easy difficulty, the game offers a fair amount of challenge; on Normal, it’s borderline impossible, as the low trophy rates show. Beat-’em-ups are known but their difficulty, but Wulverblade somehow takes that to new extremes, for better or worse. Arcade vets will no doubt relish the challenge, and for everyone else, Easy mode is a great way to see all that the game has to offer without pulling out your hair.
You might be wondering, at this point how the historical element factors in here—especially with a story about three mystical warriors taking on the might of Rome. Wulverblade‘s main story is certainly fictitious, but it’s surrounded in some very detailed historical context.
The levels themselves are based on real places, with extensive location scouting and research into things like the architecture of the day. In those moments of respite between fights, you get to soak in the atmosphere, and cartoon art style notwithstanding, the locations feel grounded and real. To drive that home further, there’s a handful of location scouting videos included as collectibles, allowing you to directly compare the game’s settings with real life.
Wulverblade also has an expensive codex full of historical facts, again taking the form of collectibles. You’ll learn about the Ninth Legion and the people of Caledonia—their lives, their cultures, their tools and weaponry, and the conflict between them. There’s still a lot that historians don’t know about the period, but from what is known, Wulverblade has a lot of knowledge to share.
Even though the game takes place entirely within Caledonia, going only as far south as Hadrian’s Wall, the level select map spans the full breadth of Britannia. There are a few videos and historical notes scattered about in those parts, but mostly, the map is there to give a sense of scale and context to the events of the game. Rome had conquered almost the entirety of Britannia, but for whatever reason—we still don’t really know—they never did manage to take hold of Caledonia, even with their advanced technology and military tactics.
One could argue that there should be a closer link between the history and the game itself—that the fantasy elements should be stripped away, that the story should stick to the facts, and that the gameplay shouldn’t be so exaggerated. However, I think the balance is just right: Wulverblade offers a very exciting game on its own right, that excitement feeds into the history lessons, and then the historical context frames the action in a new, even more fascinating light.
That being the case, Wulverblade is a game I’d urge anyone to check out. Whether you come for the beat-’em-up fun or the history lesson, you’ll no doubt find both sides of the game worth your time
Wulverblade is developed by Fully Illustrated and published by Darkwind Media. It’s available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC.
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.