Review: Blade Ballet

Local multiplayer games like Gang Beasts, TowerFall Ascension, and Lethal League are all designed to be simple, thrilling, dynamic, bite-sized experiences. These have been great "couch competitive" games best played with a roomful of friends all playing on the same screen. What sets these multiplayer games apart from others is that no matter your skill level, the gameplay always seems to be so addictively simple as fun party games, just like the new BattleBots-inspired indie game Blade Ballet.

Blade Ballet (PS4, PC [reviewed])
Developer: DreamSail Games
Genre: Action Multiplayer
Released: August 9, 2016
MSRP: $14.99 ($13.49 PS4 & Steam launch discount)
Played: Played local multiplayer for 1.5 hours, played online multiplayer for 1 hour

Blade Ballet was reviewed using a final retail Steam key provided free by the publisher.

Blade Ballet is a 2-4 local and online multiplayer party game developed and published by DreamSail Games. You compete by controlling a weaponized robot in ten hazardous arenas each with their own unique layouts, obstacles, or power-ups. The gameplay revolves around a spinning attack mechanic, using your robot's movement and rotation to sneak around opponents' defenses and secure kills. Local and online multiplayer modes include last man standing stock matches, timed deathmatches, and a mini Rocket League-style soccer game.

The game's controls are pretty simple: move, jump, spin clockwise or counter-clockwise, and use your robot's special ability. You can play using a keyboard or a controller, but I preferred using my controller's left analog stick for omnidirectional movement over the keyboard's more awkward WASD key controls. Although the learning curve is low, the skill ceiling seems to be pretty high. Mastering the timing of each character's movement and offensive special abilities is extremely important, as I noticed my opponents who constantly spun and attacked recklessly rarely won in any game mode.

Each robot has their own unique weapons, defenses, and special abilities:

  • Catbot: Equipped with a front-facing blade and only one side shield. Can thrust quickly and ignore enemy shields.
  • Torque: Has no shields but can quickly spin twin horizontal blades to attack or deflect enemy attacks.
  • Syphon: Uses its radial ability to destroy enemy shields and equip itself with more blades for each shield destroyed. Starts off with two side shields and one front-facing blade.
  • Riot: Does not have any blades but uses its body to attack with spiked shields that regenerate quickly. Charges in any direction while holding down the ability button.
  • Nix: Teleports forward farther the longer you hold the ability button. Teleporting also phases through enemies. Equipped with two side shields and one front blade. 
  • Trigger: Slings powerful bombs forward as its special ability. Has one side shield and a rear blade. 
  • Ruckus: No blades but its large, powerful mace can shoot forward for quick kills. The mace's leash can also push or pull enemy bots at will. Has one side shield.
  • Vanguard: Slow-turning and heavy, but has the game's longest blade and a powerful charge attack. Armored on three sides.
  • Drop Jaw: Stuns enemies with a ground pound shockwave. Equipped with two side shields and front blades.
  • Steve: Strafes and lunges quickly at will. Equipped with a front blade and two shields.

Experimenting with all of Blade Ballet's ten robots is half the fun. Because any given match lasts just a few minutes, dancing around an arena while your opponents make mistakes is an exhilarating and effective strategy. The game's ten wacky arenas have dangerous gimmicks that are challenging to deal with during combat, like conveyor belts, rotating laser beams, constantly collapsing floor tiles, or an endless avalanche.

If you've played other fast-paced, battle royale-style multiplayer games like Fusion Frenzy or TowerFall Ascension, you know that playing local party games where all players share one screen can be a lot of fun, especially with four players total. Playing Blade Ballet locally is no different. It's a hilarious premise; even just two casual players can have a lot of fun spinning their robots aimlessly around the game's hectic arenas.

However, it's a shame that there are barely any Blade Ballet players playing online. I tried to find an online match at different times on launch day. More than half the time, I was unable to find three other players online to play with on any regional server. When I finally could join and complete a match, I often had to wait several minutes to join the next game because I had to requeue constantly. This is where I think Blade Ballet's online mode could benefit from a post-game "vote to rematch" feature, so players have the option to replay against the same opponents as long as they can. Granted, this was my personal online experience while playing on Steam; I can't speak to the PS4 player community.

The game's developer DreamSail Games set up a Discord channel for coordinating  private games and voice chatting, but you can tell the online player base needs to grow significantly to ensure players can matchmake with three other players consistently. Blade Ballet also lacks other online features like in-game chat, leaderboards, and enemy AI bots to fill in gaps where human players are unavailable. Any of these features would add a lot value to an already addicting game.

Perhaps Blade Ballet's current $15 price tag will turn some people off, especially given the game's small online player population right now. Otherwise, if you get three other friends to play Blade Ballet locally with you consistently, then great - you'll definitely get your money's worth entertaining your gaming group for a while.

"Blade Ballet is a quirky, chaotic, fun multiplayer party romp that deserves a larger online community."

GOOD: Matches are quick and exciting. Learning curve is low. Excellent character, level, and art design.

BAD: Online player base on PC is way too small. $15 asking price is slightly too high. Game modes lack enemy AI bots.