"Boing! Boing! Boing! Your boobies are still the best!" she trills, in her high-pitched sing-song voice. "Hmmm, boobie lady, you seem kinda down! Everything but your boobies is sagging!"
It took me a while to realise it was happening, but over the past few days I've been slowly falling in love with Taokaka. It's a bit odd, because to be perfectly honest, I'm not even that sure what she is. You can't really see much of her face - just a pair of red eyes peering out from the darkness of her hoodie, and the occasional Cheshire cat grin. I mean the "cat" part literally, too: at first I was sure she was a human-feline hybrid, but on close inspection it appears that she's just wearing an elaborate costume. Her ears and paws seem to be part of her clothing, but her tail is almost certainly real. At any rate, she certainly likes to say "meow" a lot - as in, "you're making fun of meow". Also, as the preceding quotation makes clear, she's obsessed with other people's tits.
According to a BlazBlue Wiki, Taokaka likes to wear skimpy red underwear beneath her coat. Then again, the other day some japester had changed her name to read "Lady Gaga", so the guide may not be all that trustworthy. It says something about the nature of BlazBlue that it wouldn't be entirely out of place if ol' Poker Face herself turned up to take part in the scrap. After all, the rest of the cast includes a snobby vampiress; a scientist who's turned into an inter-dimensional blob (with a facemask); and an anorexic young sprat in a top hat who fights alongside a mechanical doll, which may or may not contain the spirit of his sister. The game's principle villain, Hazama, looks a bit like Michael Jackson in his Smooth Criminal garb… although he's admittedly nowhere near as weird as Wacko in the latter stages of his metamorphosis.
It's hardly unconventional for a fighting game to feature odd characters. Still, for anyone unfamiliar with Arc System Works' previous output - which, I suspect, will include most people reading this review - BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is an intimidating prospect. It looks utterly beautiful, casting its detail-rich anime pugilists against obscenely intricate 3D backdrops, and yet its appearance will seem quite alien to anyone unacquainted with Japanese cartoon culture. And even if you're not fazed by these rich visual flavours, the complexity of the one-on-one gameplay is immediately evident.
BlazBlue's fights are swift, combo-focused affairs, with dozens of mechanics potentially affecting the action at any given time. There are counters, guard breaks and barriers, moves that can only be used when specific gauges have been filled, as well as Astral Heats - showboating finishing moves that can only be performed in a deciding round, when your opponent has less than a third of their health left, and when you when have still an unused Break Burst icon (and no, I'm not going to explain what they are). Naturally each character also has their own set of special moves - and as Tim Empey pointed in his review of the last game, it's initially quite hard to separate these from the bread-and-butter 'normals', which are often equally strange.
Every fighting title worth its salt makes an effort to offer a decent spread of fighter types and diversity is an integral part of BlazBlue's DNA. At the basic level, the game presents the player with four buttons. Three of these offer light, medium and heavy blows; the final button is used for Drive attacks, the nature of which varies hugely depending on your choice of fighter. Taokaka's Drive attacks allow her to pounce about at incredible speed, allowing her to cross the screen swiftly or to play mind games with her opponent. Ragna the Bloodedge - a sword-wielding emo-type who serves as the series' posterboy - can use his Drive to drain energy from his rivals, allowing him to stay in the fight that little while longer.
While some Drives offer familiar gameplay tools - Jin's moves can let him freeze his opponent, for example - others open up specialities that make for wildly different playstyles. Arakune, the aforementioned scientist-turned-blob, has to use his Drive to build up a curse meter, which is unique to him; once the gauge has been filled via successful Drive attacks, each of his normals will cause an insect to fly across the screen, damaging the other fighter if it hits them. In his non-curse state he's a relative weakling; with the gauge full, he's an absolute terror - unleashing a torrent of bugs that can juggle and combo your poor rival in conjunction with the other moves in his arsenal.