Review: Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive (Switch) - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive (Switch)

By Sairus Delaney

What if a fighting game and a side scrolling beat 'em up had a baby?

Most folks jumping into Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive will probably never have heard of its fighting game ancestor, simply called Phantom Breaker. It landed without much of a splash in 2011, but its developer 5pb. was not to be dissuaded. They took all of their characters and fighting game tech and transplanted them into a quirky side scrolling beat ‘em up. Thus Battle Grounds was born, and it’s been released and rereleased on various systems since 2013. 

Gameplay is quite similar to standard side scrollers with a few notable exceptions. Instead of freely moving anywhere on the screen there are two lanes that you and enemies can walk back and forth on, adding to the feel of playing a 2D fighting game. You and enemies can leap between these lanes at any time when things get a bit hectic. 

The other difference is how complex the combat is. Characters all have four different attack buttons, which all change depending on the direction held while using them. Every character has the full suite of combos available to most standard fighting games, augmented by double and triple jumps, air dashes, special cancels, supers and a half dozen other techniques. 

Side scrollers are often seen as an outdated and simplistic style of game, so the injection of a robust combat engine like this is admirable, but I don’t feel that Battle Grounds approaches it very well. With so many abilities available it can often feel overwhelming. To compound this, until you level up your character enough many attacks won’t combo together, making characters feel clunky to use. The game’s only effort to explain these systems is a 25 page text guide, which is helpful, but not a very enjoyable way to try and understand the game. 

Ignoring all these complexities and just button mashing will get you through the intro sections to the first couple of levels, but Battle Grounds will very quickly punish you for not learning the intricacies of how everything works. I imagine a lot of players will pick this game up expecting a casual romp and get disheartened by the technical controls. Those looking for a deeper take on the standard beat ‘em up will be right at home though.

Art and sound are definitely aspects that the game nails however. Everything is rendered in big, gorgeously animated pixel art. Locations are all pulled directly from real world Tokyo too, so if you’re familiar with them it’s pretty fun to fight mobs of demonic otaku and salary men in places like the Hey! arcade in Akihabara. The soundtrack has some great classic sounding chiptunes, and surprisingly the completely nonsense story mode is fully voice acted.

Being a side scroller, Battle Grounds has a strong emphasis on multiplayer and supports up to four players on one system. However, the game at launch has no online component. If you want to play this co-op you’ll need to hand over one of your joy-cons. 5pb. have promised to add online play and arcade mode leaderboards when the Nintendo Switch Online services launch later this year.

Phantom Breaker Battle Grounds Overdrive is a competent and very pretty game. Many playable characters (including those that were paid DLC on other consoles) and a robust leveling system means there’s a lot of replayability on offer if you really gel with the game too, but be aware that it asks a lot of the player. If you’re in the market for a casual button mashing beat ‘em up you may want to look elsewhere. However, if you want a side scroller with all the depth and complexity of a fighting game this might be a better fit. 

Final Score: 7.0

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