Review: Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds (Sony PlayStation Vita)

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Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
Publisher: 5pb
Developer: Divison2
Genre: Beat-em-up
Release Date: 08/12/2014

Making a beat-em-up spin off of a fighting game seems logical enough. After all, both genres feature fighters beating the snot out of foes. One just focuses on taking down one opponent at a time, while the other focuses on hordes of mindless goons. You can even carry over special moves and combos, making the transition smooth and simple.

It should come as a shock then that Battle Grounds is such a disappointment. Instead of translating a fighting game into a deep beat-em-up, this game is mostly about mashing buttons. It seemingly has all the charm and heart in the world, but lacks a story worth your time. There was so much promise here, but it just didn’t pan out.

The story focuses on a group of female fighters going up against a ruthless being called Phantom. Phantom has unleashed a horde of bizarre looking enemies across multiple dimensions, and even kidnapped of the heroine’s sister. While the goal would seemingly be to stop this monster, the game is mostly about finding said sister.

phantombreaker1What follows is a pale story that does little to get you into the characters. It also does little to explain just what is going on. For example, the first boss is known as a Scavenger. At no point does the game explain what that means in context. You’re pretty much assumed to have played one of the other game in the series. This makes it hard to get into the story at all.

Each of the four initial characters has a story to play through, but they’re all pretty much the same. You’ll go through the same levels, fight the same baddies, and hit the same notes. A bit of the dialogue is different, but that’s about it. None of the unlockable characters get a story. You can just play through the levels again. It’s really a waste.

Battle Grounds uses a distinctively retro feel to hook you in. 8-Bit graphics combined with rocking Midi tracks definitely kick in the sense of nostalgia. Add in an authentic Japanese voice track, and you’ve got a recipe for a decent looking and sounding game. There’s a decent variety in enemy types, although color swaps still happen quite a bit. The backgrounds are pretty nice though, including a recreation of Akihabara. The retro look and feel is certainly cute.

No matter which character you choose, you’ll find the controls are the same. You move with the d-pad, jump by pressing up, and use the four face button to unleash a variety of attacks. There are light, medium, heavy, and special attacks. The light and medium attacks chain well together to create combos, while heavy attacks are only good for one big hit. The special attacks usually give you some sort of range. While four different attack buttons might seem amazing for a beat-em-up, you’re only every really going to spam a few moves in order to win.

phantombreaker4In normal games of the genre, you can move up and down as well as side to side. The depth of the field is great, but you’ll sometimes miss an attack because you’re off by just a hair. To get around that, this game actually separates those planes. You’ll jump directly between foreground and background by pressing the left shoulder button. This means you won’t miss an enemy because you’ve misjudged your vertical range. While nifty, the game doesn’t do much with the mechanic. Enemies can use it, but are more often content to sit still and wait for you to come to them. Some of them will also walk to the edge of the screen and sit there until you kill them. It’s still a nifty idea though.

Believe it or not, the game makes use of some minor RPG elements. Defeating enemies nets you crystals which are worth various amounts of experience. At the end of each level (or after you die), all of your experience is tallied up and you gain levels. Each level gives you points you can put into your character. You can increase strength, speed, and defense. If you’re more inclined, you can spend those points to get new combat abilities such a higher jumps, a dash attack, and a temporary strength boost. The stats ends up being king though, and the abilities can simply wait until later. Also, the skill tree is the same for each character, so there’s not much variety to be found.

phantombreaker2The problem with this game is that it is simply too easy. The button mashing style of combat makes taking down enemies a breeze. Your super meter charges quickly as well. So even if things start to get hairy, you can super your way out of it. On my first play through, I died only once. That was on a boss, who I soundly thrashed on my second attempt. If worse comes to worse, you can always play through a level of arcade mode to boost your level. Things can get a bit tough at times. That’s mostly when you come across an enemy with a cheap long ranged attack. The trick there is simply to jump back and forth between foreground and background until you can get in for the attack. Some bosses can break out of a combo, but it isn’t too hard to get them immediately stuck back in one.

There are only two modes in the game. You can play through the story with any of the characters, or just go through the missions in arcade mode. Arcade mode keeps track of your time, score, and max combo. Your score is posted online to the leaderboards. You can also play online or ad-hoc with friends during the story, but good luck finding someone to play with. Unless you really get into leveling all of the characters, you can do all there is to do in just a few hours. It doesn’t offer much bang for the buck.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a game that looks like it could be great. The retro theme has done wonder for other games in the genre. However, this game offers repetitive, shallow combat and has an overall lack of content. It doesn’t help that the game is far easier than fans of the genre would prefer. If you want a quality beat-em-up, look elsewhere. If you’re looking to beat your Vita’s button into submission, this will definitely work.

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