Under Night In-Birth
Switch version tested
Review code provided
I had no idea what to expect with Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late [cl-r]. It didn’t appear to be the type of game that I would ordinarily seek out as it seemed like a visual novel, and they aren’t top of my list. Imagine my surprise when it turns out that Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late [cl-r] isn’t one of those high school drama’s or fetch quests for pants, but a full-on 2D fighter that is refreshingly good and plants a delicious uppercut on the glass chin of the Nintendo eShop.
Though not remotely a scientific study or a statistic that can be proved, one in three titles on the Switch usually revolve around a homage of sorts to retro titles or thereabouts. Sometimes they hit the mark, other times these games are lite versions that would work well on mobile but are often ported to the Switch to capitalise on all available platforms. Under Night In-Birth (as it will be known for the rest of the review) isn’t like that; it’s a solid standalone fighter worthy of your time.
There’s bound to be a following of this series, alas, the title only recently reached my ears (and lap), but I’m glad it did. For those in the dark, Under Night In-Birth focuses on creatures called Voids that harvest a power on Earth called EXS, but they’re invisible to the naked eye. Some humans can see these creatures and are attacked by the Voids, turning them into In-Births; a form of insanity. These events are collectively known as the Hollow Night phenomenon, and four groups aim to control the problem: Nights Blade, Licht Kreis, Amnesia and Demon Society. Rather than giving you an exhaustive back story, playing the game unlocks the stories for each character and their respective allegiance. The skinny is, they all have their agenda and are all in competition with one another.
Without needing to invest a couple of hours worth of grinding, there are 21 characters to choose from at the outset. “Monsieur, with zis Rocher you are really spoiling us!” (Ask your grandad). Having so many fighters to choose from is a challenge in itself as the default difficulty isn’t too hard, and you end up sticking with one character for about ten stages at a time. As a person who opts for Mike Haggar of Final Fight or Max Thunder of Streets of Rage 2, picking a brute tends to be my preference at first. In this case, I started with a character called Waldstein with ridiculously large claws that overpowered the screen as well as my opponent. However, before long, I was soon experimenting and soon came to realise the ‘flagship’ player of the game, Hyde, as well as another character named Seth to end up as my bookmarked players. There’s a good variety here for any veteran of the beat ’em up genre, and you won’t be disappointed with the choice. Just be prepared to learn quite a bit about the character in the process.
As a 2D game, using the d-pad was a little more precise than the sticks. Switching (haha!) between a pro controller and the new Hori-pad, my d-pad choices didn’t result in a trip to casualty or getting a note from my mum that I couldn’t do the washing up for a week. I can’t say the same for the standard joy-cons as I’d imagine that they aren’t as much fun to play with. Whatever your choice though, the controls are tight. There wasn’t any evident lag and pulling off a move was first-class and each match, or as indicated in the game ‘clause’, was fluid. There were no apparent cases of pressing up, down, left, right, A, B, down, etc. Anyone can pick this up. Even learning each characters moves isn’t as much as an ordeal as its peers.
Under Night In-Birth has a very similar style to Guilty Gear and reminds me of the first game I bought in Japan on the PSP: Bleach: Heat of the Soul. I couldn’t understand the menu system or dialogue, but the visuals were on par with the anime, and the same with Under Night In-Birth: the presentation is very striking and feels like Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, which is a good thing. Interestingly, the developer French-Bread, previously worked on Melty Blood which I was fortunate enough to play. While there weren’t any memorable characters as such, the gameplay was great and the art style fantastic.
Playing Under Night In-Birth in handheld mode looks the part, but in docked mode, it’s even better. The animation is smooth, and the controls are fast. Though it doesn’t have the same over-the-top finishing moves like Marvel Vs Capcom, the action always feels urgent but doesn’t overwhelm with ridiculous combos or a learning curve that will put blisters on your thumbs. At any stage, you can bring up a menu mid-battle that lists the controls for your specific character, though the buttons are represented by A, B and C – the latter not listed on the Switch.
In-between fights are dialogue scenes between opponents, providing a bit more exposure to character history and motivation. The pace is fine, but be advised that if you’re not one for reading text, there’s an additional Chronicles path which is solely a visual novel. It didn’t interest me at first, but as I played different characters and slowly understood all the various factions, it did shed a bit more light on the lore. Going through each of the character arcs, you unlock a new one, as well as further appearances of these characters during the main game.
Under Night In-Birth is packed full of extras. The meat and veg is the arcade mode that is a typical arcade setup with ten levels; the dialogue sections and your opponent changing depending on your chosen character. Chronicles is the visual novel that is a passive experience, and other than skipping the text as you’ve read it, you’re there for the ride only. Knowing full well that the beat ’em up communities like the option of customising their favourite fighters, French-Bread have upped the game by giving each character a range of costume combos. There’s a gaming card for each match where you can customise the icon, panel and your title, plus other features such as a gallery of images and movies you’ve unlocked. If you’re truly dedicated, there are practice modes and tutorials to hone your skills further, plus online play against other players.
I’m genuinely impressed with Under Night In-Birth – I didn’t expect to find a new fighter that would end up being my go-to title beat ’em up on the Switch, knocking Mother Russia Bleeds off the perch. Not only does it play incredibly well, but the presentation is fantastic throughout both in terms of the art style, voice acting and soundtrack – if somewhat corny, it still plays an important part. The background story is a little too much at times; working out who sides with which team, EXS, Voids and the like – there’s more jargon than a marketing convention. Thankfully, the gameplay is spot on and with the number of customisations you can unlock (via a point system called IP), online play and the inevitable ‘mastering’ of your preferred character, Under Night In-Birth will keep you busy for some time.
Let’s keep this one simple: Under Night In-Birth is currently the best beat ’em up I’ve played on the Switch. Not only are the controls tighter than a duck’s exit wound, but the overall presentation is incredibly well polished. The backstories are a little excessive, but you gather that with a title named Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late [CL-R]. Then again, Fight Club was already taken.