To count the number of Bleach video game spin-offs on one hand would be impossible. If you are referring to the English counterparts, however, there are only four of them, with the most recent one being Bleach: The 3rd Phantom for the DS. Fans hoping to check out an action game without resorting to spending lots on importing fees can look forward to the upcoming adaptation called Bleach: Soul Resurreccion, exclusively for the PlayStation 3.
For our recent play-through, we checked out three stages: two of them starred main hero Ichigo Kurosaki and one of them was with Quincy warrior Uryu Ishida. All of them involved the main heroes slashing hordes upon hordes of ghosts with different types of skullcaps called hollows. Sometimes, you'll fight a trio of giant hollows called menos grandes that bear a resemblance to the outfits of a plague doctor in the Renaissance era. The game also stay true to the Hueco Mundo arc of the series by having you square off mano a mano against evolved hollow lieutenants called the arrancars, with one of them mimicking a Saint Seiya reject with added blue long hair and a tail.
Controlling our main hero Ichigo was pretty easy: Square and triangle are his normal and spirit attacks, respectively, while pressing the circle unleashes an area-clearing attack. You can dash all across the Hueco Mundo by pressing and holding down the R2 button. Pressing the L2 button when you've killed enough enemies will unleash a character's unique power-up: In the case of Ichigo, he'll put on his hollow mask and be all powered up while also having access to a screen-clearing ultra attack upon pressing the L2 button again.
To defend yourself, you have to hold down R1 to block; dodging attacks via flash steps require you to push toward any direction on the left thumbstick while holding the block button. You can single out a lone target by pressing the L1 once, in which the cursor will lock on to the enemy that's within the center-most point of the camera. All forms of spirit moves require spirit energy (located at the bottom of your health) that regenerate over time as long as you're not dashing. Exhausting the energy until depleted will increase the regeneration time, so you'll have to be careful not to drain it too much when using spirit attacks.
Uryu's main weapon is his ginrei kojaku, which is a pentacle-shaped plasma-shooting bow. Pressing the triangle in succession unleashes white arrows followed up by a wide blast that pushes hollows away. Pressing the circle lets Uryu use his ginto abilities, which are spells that use up liquid spirit energy from tiny vials, to clear his surrounding area of enemies. Players can look forward to controlling other Bleach mainstays like soul reapers Rukia Kuchiki, Toshiro Hitsugaya, and Byakuya Kuchiki. The game also allows you to level up characters and upgrade their moves. Upon collecting the game's equivalent of experience points, you can unlock triple jumps, ability cancels, and guard counterattacks to help combat enemies.
While the combat feels satisfying upon first glance, if you're not a fan, you will definitely not find much appeal to keep pressing forward. There isn't a way for newbies to get in tune to the game because the bits and pieces that constitute narratives are all over the place. The game could also benefit new players by offering a lexicon and dictionary a la the codex option in Mass Effect because most of the key abilities and skills are alien to new players.
The camera also got in the way while we were dashing around in confined spaces. Save for the end-of-level bosses, which would require some use of dodging and running around the wide-open battlefield, the hollow army did not put up much of a challenge. Thus, we resorted to spamming their respective spirit attacks while conserving their spirit energy to get ahead and not get hurt at all. Even if we got hurt, a grayed-out part of our health bar would regenerate over time, so we would probably have to try really, really hard to fail. In short, we didn't feel that the aforementioned counterattacks and upgrades were necessary in finishing a segment.
Even with the prospect of reliving a rather large and, arguably, exciting part of the Bleach storyline in video game form, we admit that the experience could use a lot more meat and thought. Here's hoping that the rest of the game can change our perceptions when the localized version is released in the US on August 2 and in Asia next week on July 28.