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Black Rock Shooter: The Game
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: imageepoch
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Making a game based on a property named Black Rock Shooter seems so obvious that itís surprising a few years elapsed before this PSP title became a reality. At the very least, Black Rock Shooter was heavily inspired by action games and a healthy dose of anime and manga. Black Rock Shooter: The Game reflects very little of the anime series, from a plot standpoint, but the iconic character named Ė wait for it Ė Black Rock Shooter is alive and well, and playable. A girl with a flaming blue eye, cool hair, urban fashion, bristling with guns... this thing really writes itself, right?

Youíll be pleasantly surprised how much attention to story and mood went into Black Rock Shooter: The Game. Lots of cinematic interludes and dialogue went into what is mostly an excuse to blow stuff up. When you are blowing stuff up, the game looks great. Even though itís billed as an Action RPG, we felt it played more like an on-rails shooting game. This isnít a bad thing. Action RPGs tend to be as good as their controls, and always end up feeling a bit flaky. With Black Rock Shooter: The Game, you get a few button presses to remember, and everything else is just timing. This approach allows for more interesting camera angles and action sequences, compared to what youíd see if you were controlling the camera yourself.

The quick, no-spoiler storyline has to do with the end of the world; not because of giant meteors or earthquakes, but because of some aliens determined to wipe out the entire human population. As the game begins, the aliens seem to have been pretty darn successful, because only 12 humans are left alive. Most of them are dudes, so repopulating the earth anytime soon seems unlikely. When Black Rock Shooter appears, she gets a mixed reaction from the humans. Some are ready to follow her anywhere, while others are a bit skeptical. Donít know about you, but if a hot girl with a huge gun appeared and was willing to fight on my side, I wouldnít ask too many questions.

Black Rock Shooter: The Game is almost as on-rails outside of combat as it is when you face off against the bad guys. You can explore the world along a defined path, with a few branches available, including some hidden branches. Enemies show up, the screen dissolves RPG-style to battle them, and then itís back on the path until you reach the end. You could say this is a downer, but it keeps the momentum going. You can replay levels for additional rewards or to reload on items youíll use during battle, similar to the grinding process in an RPG. Thereís a good balance between the fighting, exploration, and general character studies that keeps things interesting in Black Rock Shooter: The Game. Itís a nice mature game on a platform that is most definitely mature.

Making progress isnít the issue here, as we mentioned earlier. What does take some time is leveling up between areas, or retracing your steps to gather supplies. Thereís a good tutorial as you get started, especially during battles. Each time a new skill becomes available, youíll get a chance to learn it, but the full tour is mostly complete after the first stage. After a battle or three, you may get the mistaken impression that Black Rock Shooter: The Game is too easy. This myth is quickly dispelled as you pick fights with bigger enemies, and multiple enemies. See, Black Rock Shooter herself has to rest occasionally. Push too hard, either attacking or dodging, and sheíll have to cool down for a while. This adds an element of challenge during fights once you realize youíre going to take damage no matter what, and it just comes down to whoís going to hit you. Learning to use items during battle is key to success, but this is pretty simple stuff. Mastering combos and timing your dodge is where youíll really turn the corner during fights.

Game Mechanics:
Black Rock Shooter: The Game makes use of just about every button on the PSP, but in a fairly intuitive way. Itís also nice that the various combos and abilities are staged in, so that you arenít smacked with them all during the first battle. Moving your character as you explore is done with the analog pad, combined with a button press to vault up or jump down. Simple controls to attack or use items are provided, but exploration is basically about running around. Once in battle, you can use all the face buttons, in combination with a press of either shoulder button to use items or special attacks. The only movement directly allowed during battle is moving a targeting reticle between enemies. Dodges are triggered with one button, making the timing more challenging than it would have been if free movement was allowed.

We found Black Rock Shooter: The Game to be an enjoyable trip down memory lane, a game that would have looked good many years ago when titles for PSP were more common on shelves and review websites. Thereís nothing wrong with the game, and it does a better-than-average job of merging story, characters, and action. The battle mechanic is solid, and thank goodness, because youíll spend 70% of the game fighting enemies. If an on-rails shooter with RPG aspirations sounds appealing, youíll love playing Black Rock Shooter: The Game. Also, if youíre a fan of the series or Japanese import titles in general, youíll find plenty to like here. With all those pros, the only con is that this game and the PSP basically add up to retro gaming at this point.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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