[This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.]

The difference between exploitation as a genre and mere pornography is that exploitation seeks just enough mainstream credibility to overcome the social stigma that drives people to consume pornography in secret, if at all. Fool people into thinking that a work of exploitation has some social value, and not only will they pay to experience it, they’ll talk to their friends about it and encourage them to see it as well.

Of course the consequence of this is that exploitation can never actually deliver what it promises. Instead it’s tease after tease, surrounded by trappings of respectability like storytelling and moralizing. But given that these trappings are seen by their creators as an afterthought or even a necessary evil, they’re almost never good enough to stand on their own. They’re what must be endured to make the rest of the work just socially acceptable enough.

Spoiler warning

X-Blades is unquestionably an exploitation game. It’s hardly the first example of one (that would probably be Exidy’s unlicensed Death Race arcade machine from 1976), and it’s nowhere near the best by any metric. Like Ted V. Mikels’s film The Girl In Gold Boots, it’s a tedious, ugly trudge through a swamp of filler material, whose only purpose is to offer brief flashes of deviant titillation.

Despite looking like it was cranked out by a sub-Idea Factory developer in Japan, X-Blades was actually made by a Russian studio, Gaijin Entertainment (not to be confused with Gaijin Games, who made the great BIT.TRIP series). Eastern Bloc game development has seen a creative surge over the past decade, as games like Metro 2033 and Cryostasis will attest, but X-Blades is the farthest thing from creative. Rather, it’s a mishmash of tired anime tropes and pubescent male sexual fantasies trying unsuccessfully to masquerade as a serious action game that combines elements of Tomb Raider and Devil May Cry.

Never has a game been so red

There’s also a story, but in the true spirit of exploitation, it’s impossible to care about. Staggeringly unlikeable main character Ayumi is a treasure hunter who gets in over her head when she tries to steal a cursed artifact, triggering a bunch of metaphysical nonsense that seems to be daring the player to try and make sense of it. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to. That’s because the game’s real “story” is Ayumi’s ridiculous outfit which consists of a g-string and a few pieces of armor which are there only to draw attention to how little she’s actually wearing.

A prominent subplot revolves around the implementation of jiggle physics, which cause Ayumi’s assets to bounce around in a way that cannot possibly appeal to anyone over the age of 14. Sadly, this is by far the game’s greatest technical achievement. The combat is a mess, with finicky lock-on mechanics that make it a chore to attack anything not on the ground directly in front of you. Visually, the game is a blinding explosion of red lighting that often completely obscures the action. X-Blades is, without a doubt, the ugliest game I’ve highlighted yet in this series. Five minutes with it will make you pine for the drab brownness of most modern shooters.

None more red

Despite the concessions they make in the name of minimal social respectability, exploitation films generally fail as both social commentary and art. Nevertheless, some of them succeed at attaining an accidental coolness. X-Blades is definitely exploitative, unquestionably an artistic failure, but it is anything but cool. It’s the fevered imagination of a boy in the throes of puberty transferred to a game disc. It is so thoroughly exceeded in graphics, gameplay and writing by everything else in its genre that there is no reason for it to exist other than the hope that it will sell a few copies to pre-teen boys whose parents (rightly) won’t let them near the internet.