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Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds

May 17, 2013

boxartlgPhantom Breaker: Battlegrounds

What’s Good:
-Clean and colorful retro-inspired visuals
-Responsive and satisfying mechanics
-The persistent leveling system gives you a good feeling of progression
-Unlockable characters and difficulty levels provide plenty of replay value

What’s Bad:
-Lack of a good tutorial makes learning the game’s systems take a little longer than necessary
-Low level characters can be boring to play as
-Not every character can be used in story mode

If I were to give it a rating: 4 out of 5

Other thoughts:
Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds is a spin-off of the Phantom Breaker fighting game. Instead of one on one fighting, PB:B is a side-scrolling beat-em-up somewhat in the vein of Streets of Rage or River City Ransom, but with the street-toughs from those games being replaced by chibi anime ladies.
It’s a surprising game in a couple of ways.. Firstly, it’s surprising to see a game like this released on Xbox Live here in the U.S., what with the anime-inspired art (and DLC cameo), and the Japanese-only voice over. Additionally, contrary to what I’d expect from an offshoot of a middle-of-the-road fighting game, PB:B is surprisingly good.

Mechanically it’s a pretty traditional run-right-and-beat-everything-you-see-to-a-pulp brawler, but there are a couple of things in here that separate this game from your Castle Crashers or your Scott Pilgrim vs the Worlds.
Most notable is the fact that PB:B takes place on two planes, with one in front of the other. Hopping between planes can be useful for avoiding attacks, and solves the old irritation of trying to line 2D sprites up in 3D space.
PB:B also has persistent leveling mechanics that carry between the different modes. As you defeat enemies, they drop red gems, which when picked up work toward your level. Once you level up, you’re able to allocate points into either base stats (attack, defense, and speed), or into a skill tree which unlocks new abilities. These abilities range from the low end double-jump, to screen-filling Phantom Breaker attacks.
Characters can be respecced with no penalty and you don’t receive enough points to unlock everything (without the increased level cap anyway), so choosing how to balance your fighter makes for some fun experimentation. It’s a bummer that every character shares the same exact skill tree layout, but the characters still feel different, as they each have their own unique special attacks.
It can feel like a slog in the early-going when your chosen character lacks abilities or attack damage, but the leveling process is very quick.

The storyline is a tad on the uninteresting side, though you get a slightly different version of it depending on which of the four default characters you choose to play through it with. Finishing the story mode on each of the difficulties unlocks tougher difficulties and more playable characters, but unfortunately these characters can only be used in the Arcade and Battle modes. It isn’t a huge deal, as Arcade mode is simply the Story missions back-to-back without any of the dialogue, but it still would’ve been nice to have seen say, doppelganger antics between characters encountering copies of themselves.
The third mode is Battle mode, and while it’s perfectly functional, beat-em-up mechanics don’t translate into a versus setting in an all too interesting way. Maybe it would be good for some mindless entertainment, but little more.

Any of these modes can be played with up to 4 players locally or online, and judging from how overwhelming things can get on the harder difficulties, bringing friends might be the way to go.
There are a good number of new characters to unlock (and a special cameo appearance available as DLC, which comes with an increased level cap for everyone), and I would presume raising all of them to max level to see what all of their special moves are like would provide ample replayability, just so long as you’re willing to brawl through the same half-dozen or so stages to do so.

Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds may be a tough sell to some, simply due to the character designs, but if you can look past that (or happen to enjoy the style, as I do), you’ll find a mechanically sound entry in a genre that hasn’t received a whole lot of attention recently.

From → Games

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