Time for some thigh rubbing as the last time I played The Last Blade was on the Sega Dreamcast – my all-time favourite machine. Have I ever said that a billion times? Only The Last Blade Beyond The Destiny is nothing like what I expected – it’s a NeoGeo Pocket port. Say that ten times fast.
Had I paid attention, perhaps I may not have covered this as I’m not much of a fan of handheld gaming (except for the Switch). Other than the original Game Boy with Tetris, Navy Seals and Super Mario Land, I’m not familiar with a lot of titles.
The Last Blade is an excellent arcade beat ’em up from SNK. With other titles on offer when this came out, it was relatively low key in comparison to the big hitters like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II. But, it’s an excellent game and worthy of a port, but a NeoGeo Pocket?
The Last Blade Beyond The Destiny Switch Review
My instant shock, and perhaps dislike, was the presentation. You play the game as a NeoGeo Pocket bezel. That might be a nice bit of nostalgia, but when you’re playing in handheld mode on the Switch looking at a screenshot of a smaller console and an even smaller window… well, it is an acquired taste.
I can’t lie: I immediately looked for the option of turning it off and going full screen, but that wasn’t in the selection. There is a gallery where you can view and buy scrolls, but no screen options. The effort has been made to capture the original, and there’s the menu option to send and receive scrolls, but they aren’t available in this port.
Tail between my legs, it was time to jump into the gameplay and by now was feeling a little deflated. Picking a solo campaign, I see there’s about four or five characters to choose from, which I’d be fine with for a handheld, but scroll down, and there’s more. It was a decent selection.
Before getting into battle, a small cutscene appeared with dithered graphics, not animated, just a scrolling, almost parallax method. This was classic SNK storytelling – anyone who used to play in the arcades will know the style; brief but alluring enough to get you warmed up.
FIGHT! Just After Digesting The Visuals
Once again, judging a game shifts to the classic ‘first impressions’ of the presentation. As I wasn’t expecting a NeoGeo Pocket game, I wasn’t prepared for the bezel, and it didn’t prepare me for the graphics. I didn’t have any expectations (perhaps sub-consciously it was the Dreamcast comparison), but the visuals felt… meh.
Colours are quite muted, and animation frames are relatively minimal, but once my impatient Twitter gamer critique faded, I was reminded again that this is a handheld port. At the top of the bezel, you’re reminded that this is a 2.6 inches type (hey, ladies) and 160×152 resolution. Ah.
On that note, yeah, it’s very appropriate, and a younger me who could have picked this up on the original machine would have been impressed. Genuinely. On a Switch… not so much, so let’s focus on the gameplay. Pick a character and opt for either a power or speed build.
As a one-on-one fighter, your character will appear on the left and the enemy – you got it. The usual fighter setup is present with health gauges, timers and power/speed gauge to unleash a special combo once full. Whichever of the two is based on your preference for fast attacks or slower, heavier ones.
Versatile Fighting Stance
Competitive fighters may argue that the best beat ’em ups are about combos and minimal lag. While that makes sense on the competitive circuit, versatility would be the word I’d suggest. Beat ’em ups are fun and should be taken as lighthearted fun or deadly serious rage quit fuelled events.
Coming back to Mortal Kombat again (the original), my mum used to play against me and was a button masher. To this day, she still says she’d beat me (she does) at the latest version as it’s so easy for her to play. Likewise, some years back one of my good friends invited me around with a co-worker to play Mortal Kombat 10, and we were going to play against his 12-year-old son online.
He beat all three of us repeatedly. What started as a ‘bit of fun’ soon snowballed into a fierce game of pride. He’d beat us with any character as he’d learned all the juggling moves, and could frequently get flawless victories. At the time it was infuriating but a testament that the same game could be played by those who master the moves or non-gamer mums spamming one button.
After that lengthy, probably unnecessary anecdote, my point is that a good beat ’em up should be able to be played by any type of player. The Last Blade Beyond The Destiny fits that mould as you can button mash, but also play the strategic guard and/or juggling game with ease.
Do You Wanna Fight?
SNK are masters at the fighting genre – take Fatal Fury as one quick example – and their expertise is present here. The Last Blade Beyond The Destiny is not an easy game by default, but changing the difficulty mode to easy allows for a slightly more casual experience.
For veteran fighters, The Last Blade Beyond The Destiny employs the ‘hold away from your opponent’ guard mechanic, and this worked great. It’s so much better than holding a button for block. Of course, you’re limited to the number of buttons to use as it’s only A and B, but there are a wealth of moves and combos to learn.
And, just referring back to juggling, I found it was pretty easy to get a ten hit combo (and be on the receiving end), opening up a good deal of competitive play as you can also play as a two-player local game.
The Last Blade Beyond The Destiny eventually won me over due to its enjoyable gameplay, but is this a must-have beat ’em up? Perhaps if you played the original, this would be a nice bit of nostalgia for you, but for newcomers, it’s a little tricky as there are so many good fighting games out there with more options and, dare I say, more appealing presentation.
- Tight gameplay for a retro handheld.
- Plenty of characters, styles and secret modes.
- Two-player local play.
- The bezel is gimmicky and ugly in handheld.
- Movement isn't so fluid in terms of frames.
- Two-button combat takes some getting used to.