Bleach is one of those super-long running anime/manga series that is older than your gran and as hip as Espresso and Sudoku. There are exactly one zillion volumes of manga to read, and I’m unfamiliar with all of them. At the risk of offending any otaku in the audience, I will avoid trying to wrap my head around any of the storylines and instead offer up a brief summary of the manga. Here it is: Ichigo has accidentally become a Grim Reaper, and so he has to use his new powers to defend his fellow humans from sinister spirits.
What this means for DS owners is a brand new one-on-one 2D beat ‘em up to play around with. Who needs a plot? Here we have over 40 characters to brawl with, old school style, with the possibility of 4 player multiplayer brawls with just the one game cartridge.
Bleach: Dark Souls takes its inspiration more from SNK’s back catalogue than it does Capcom’s legendary Street Fighter series. Many of the warriors wield weapons, and the fights take place in arenas with two ‘planes’, so the characters can jump to and fro from the background and foreground. The sheer number of battlers on the roster has resulted in many of them not receiving much attention, while others seem ridiculously poor when compared to their companions. Still, 44 characters, with 4 colour schemes each, leads to a lot of variety.
When it comes to one-on-one fights, the game has occasional moments of excitement. You would think that adding more people into the mix would improve that but the DS’ small screens and lack of processing power makes the fights with 3 or 4 fighters awkward and confusing. Plus, in order to accommodate them all, the camera pans out and makes all the sprites jarringly small. I never thought I would look back at Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers fondly but at least that had the common sense to split its fights over both screens, making the action just about manageable.
This leads us to the question – if the fights are forced into the top screen, what’s going on at the bottom? This, sadly, is the game’s biggest flaw. Special moves are activated by pressing buttons on the touchscreen. That’s right. Not by charging up, or pulling off a 360 degree spin on the control pad, but by pressing the screen. While, I may add, you are trying to control the fight with the buttons. This is a shame as there are plenty of special moves and they all look impressive, but they’re so hard and unsatisfying to use. The friend I played Dark Souls with commented ‘I like to actually do my special moves, not have them done for me.‘
That doesn’t mean that Dark Souls is a complete mess. The multiplayer allows for four friends to play a complete and wonderfully customisable Versus mode, which not many games can pull off. I’m looking at you, Bomberman Land, which only lets you play one mini-game on Single Card Download Play before you have to turn the system off to try another one. The fact that a massive chunk of the game is available to be sent off to someone else’s DS with practically no limitations should be applauded. In addition, single player Dark Souls has some life in its Story Mode, which at least has some cool dialogue and mini-games. The storyline is standard fare and non-canonical to the real Bleach story, but what the heck, it will keep any portable beat ‘em up fan interested for a few hours at least.
If you can get your head around the unorthodox controls, the bright, detailed graphics and plethora of moves, characters and specials may keep you hooked. It’s by far the best fighter on the DS, but that’s not saying much. If you can spare a bit of cash for something you know from the beginning isn’t going to set the world alight with a blazing red fireball but is rather going to keep you and three friends button-bashing for half-hour bursts, then go for it. If you’re a bit hesitant to step out of your 2D beat ‘em up comfort zone though and prefer things to stay the way you like ‘em, track down one of the old GBA Street Fighter games. Bleach The Dark Souls for the Nintendo DS gets 5 out of 10.