Ultra Blade review
App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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The first game from Kyle Barrett I played took some time to warm up to. Immortal Rogue was one of those games that you just had to keep banging away at before its initial walls broke down to turn it into something more compelling. Given this design philosophy, I wanted to make sure I sunk a good amount of time into Ultra Blade, which at first blush feels like Barrett shoehorning Vampire Survivors into Immortal Rogue, but for as much time as I dumped into Ultra Bladeit never really felt like these concepts meshed together all that well.
Kill to survive
Ultra Blade is a wave-based survival game where you can choose from a variety of characters before being dumped into an arena where endless monsters spawn and your goal becomes surviving as long as possible. As you kill monsters, items may drop that can help you level up your character and grant new abilities for them. The only catch is that you only ever get the chance to pick from a semi-random selection of possible powerups.
These powerups can do things as simple and straightforward as increase your damage or give you a shield and as complicated as giving you a throwable glaive or gear that transforms the way your heavy attacks work. In order to keep up with the ever-increasing power of the monsters spawning into the arena, you need to try and piece together the best combination of powerups and stay leveling up as quickly as possible while avoiding damage.
I'd rather play separate games
As you die and retry in attempts to survive more waves, you'll earn currencies, unlock new characters and gear, and gain access to other arenas to take on. Between that and the honing of your own abilities to recognize enemy attack patterns, learn powerup synergies, and master the basic controls, you'll almost inevitably extend your run lengths and get further in Ultra Blade the more you play it.
I like this kind of game design, but here in Ultra Blade it feels too much like it is splitting how its structure works across two different games that it is borrowing ideas from. Every play session feels like the permanent unlocks and in-arena unlocks are not substantial or frequent enough that you have a whole lot of room to experiment without harming your chances of success. As a result, the game feels like it nudges you to grind out ways to make the grind faster.
I don't want to sound too down on Ultra Blade, because it can be quite fun. When things are really clicking together in a run or you unlock a new character to try and learn the ins and outs of, it can be quite engrossing. It's just that this situation doesn't arise as often as it does in other games. This is usually fine because different games should be different from one another, but when Ultra Blade is so clearly spinning out its own flavor of Vampire Survivors mechanics it's hard not to.
Looking at Vampire Survivors, a big part of how it rewards you is through how it makes you feel like you are lucky all the time. Things that appear random aren't, actually, and--even if they were--most of its progressive unlocks upgrade into abilities that are so powerful that you don't have to worry a whole lot about playing optimally. Ultra Blade, on the other hand, makes luck feel hard to come by and the ways that you can overcome that through player skill alone feel pretty limited unless you have already invested the massive amount of time necessary to unlock and level all of the game's characters, relics, etc.
The bottom line
Ultra Blade is a fine game, but it falls into the trap of reminding you of other, better games you could be playing. The mashup of progression mechanics here is interesting, but they don't feel as rewarding together as they do separately in other games you can already get on the App Store, one of which is free.