Blade Strangers and Stranger Places

What was the biggest surprise of E3? Metroid Prime 4 and a Metroid II remake? A PlayStation 4 revamp of Shadow of the Colossus? Microsoft actually calling a system the Xbox One X? All were unexpected, but nothing caught me off guard like Blade Strangers. A PS4/PC/Switch fighting game that nabs its roster from Code of Princess, Umihara Kawase, and Cave Story? I’d sooner have bet on Sony announcing another Hermie Hopperhead.

Blade Strangers isn’t so farfetched a crossover when you look behind the scenes. It’s the work of Studio Saizensen, a developer with a hand in both in the brawler Code of Princess and the puzzle platformer Umihara Kawase, while Cave Story, an indie marvel ever since 2004, has a link through publisher Nicalis. Apparently in an early state, the game could use more animation frames and background detail. Even so, the characters have a vibrant look thanks to a 3-D engine that imitates hand-drawn animation.

As with any fighting game, it’s the cast that intrigues me. Umihara Kawase’s eponymous heroine and Cave Story’s android Curly Brace are unorthodox picks for a fighting game, though they’re both suited to the genre; Kawase has a grappling line and giant fish at her command, while Curly has a machine gun and, presumably, other Cave Story power-ups. However, Blade Strangers leans heavily on Code of Princess. Early footage of the game includes protagonist Solange, thief Alie, and the powerhouse Master T (the mace-packing nun Helga and masked swordsman Liongate are apparently in there as well). That accounts for half of the game’s ten character-selection icons.

There are two reasons for such favoritism. Code of Princess has a wide selection of playable characters, including a magic pharaoh cat and a zombie sorceress, from which a fighting game might choose. Code of Princess also has Solange, who wears more armor on her elbows than she does on her entire torso. Not kidding.

Don’t worry, though. Kinu Nishimura drew her! That means it's…well, at least stylish in its pandering. You could even say it's parody, though that makes little difference in a fighting game.

Regardless of how Blade Strangers sells itself, I like the idea of crossover fighting games with only a few tenuous corporate threads to tie together a character lineup. It made me think up (and crudely mock up) the fighters I’d most like to see build on a company’s old catalog.

Treasure may not be the prolifically wondrous developer they were in the 1990s and 2000s, but that doesn't ding their critically beloved library of action games. You’ll find memorable characters in just about every one that isn’t a licensed outing based on Dragon Drive or Ronald McDonald. A Treasure fighter could pick from Serena Corsair and the rest of the Guardian Heroes cast, Epsilon and the many weird bosses of Alien Soldier, Saki and Airen and the other psychic kids of Sin and Punishment, the misfit Tetra crew from Radiant Silvergun, the Gunstar Heroes of both the original and the Game Boy Advance follow-up, Marina from Mischief Makers, Shina from Silhouette Mirage, the entire nutty Bangai-O roster, and, of course, Dynamite Headdy. Even Linda and her demonic scarf from the little-loved Stretch Panic fit perfectly into a fighting game.

Treasure wouldn’t have any trouble making it, either, since they’re crafted slightly unorthodox fighting games since Yu Yu Hakusho on the Genesis (all right, it’s the Mega Drive). Their later efforts included some excellent Bleach DS titles and the arena brawler Ragugaki Showtime, so a fighting game full of Treasure characters would excel beyond the cast.

Would it ever happen? It has a better chance than my next two choices, but Treasure’s in a strange place. They’ve lost some talent, and Capcom’s Gaist Crusher titles are their only recent high-profile work. A fighting game crossover, marketable only to the few who beat Guardian Heroes five times over, is too much to ask. Just be glad Treasure hasn’t folded completely.

Vic Tokai is not known for outstanding work. Outside of peaks like Clash at Demonhead and the Battle Mania/Trouble Shooter titles, you’ll see a legion of games that almost, almost, almost hit the mark. On the other hand, Vic Tokai creations have some great characters: The Krion Conquest’s adorable witch heroine Francesca, Clash at Demonhead’s skull-faced villain Tom Guycot, Trouble Shooter’s mercenary duo of Madison and Crystal, and even the Flatwoods Monster boss from Amagon. Vic Tokai also had Golgo 13 under their aegis, but Saito Productions probably wouldn’t license him for a game where other characters could beat him up. Perhaps he’d just appear as a sniper crosshairs, like his Mugen incarnation.

Vic Tokai gave up video games in 1997, and no one stepped up to license their old catalog. In this void, a Vic Tokai fighting game has odds as good as my other related pitch: Vic Tokarts, a Mario Kart ripoff with big-headed versions of Madison and Psycho Fox and Billy “Big Bang” Blitz tearing around cartoon racetracks.

Even so, I’m not the only one to think of Vic Tokai and fighting games. Behold this fan art of Madison taking on Genius Yamada, the perverted villain from Game Tengoku, in a crossover between Vic Tokai and Jaleco. I don’t know who drew it, but I know that I love the artist for mimicking the cover of SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos.

Who doesn’t remember Data West? Who doesn’t curse the day they stopped dabbling in video games and went back to plain old software? And who wouldn’t leap upon a fighting game that brought together cherished icons like Chris and Rei from Bounty Arms, Shina and Ars from Brave Prove, and…uh….well, Rayxanber didn’t have any real characters. Maybe someone from The 4th Unit or Psychic Detective would step into the fray.

Yes, Data West is little-known and has no popular characters in their ranks. I mention them to fulfill my ceaseless fixation with the unreleased Bounty Arms, and also because they’re the most obscure game company I can think up when it comes to the idea of unexpected crossovers and comebacks. The chances of a Data West fighting game are...almost zero. Yet I can’t write off a Bounty Arms revival completely. And I’d rather not.

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