Posted on April 18, 2013 AT 06:00am
There’s a term I’ve coined when it comes to surprisingly good things appearing out of thin air: the left-field advantage. This is when a product (in this case, a video game) comes out of nowhere, with its end result leaving you flabbergasted in the best way possible and the wanting to spread the word about it. As a gamer this has happened to me when playing such titles as Snoopy Flying Ace, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Wreckateer, and Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With An Engine. I can now add more title to this list: Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds.
A spin-off of a Japan-only 2D fighter Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds has you taking control of one of four girls: Mikoto, Waka, Itsuki, and Yuzuha. The story follows a mysterious man named Phantom, who gives young girls magical powers, along with granting any wish they desire if they beat the others in battle. The girls somehow find out about Phantom’s plan, and stop him before he can cause any more harm. However Phantom soon kidnaps Waka’s sister Nagi, and it is now up to them to save her from his evil clutches.
The game has you play through eight levels, taking place mostly in parts of Japan, but also the Demonsphere where Nagi is held. You start off in Akihabara with all your powers, where you tackle normal humans controlled by parasites. Upon reaching the end you face off against the mysterious scavenger M, who reveals the location of Waka’s sister. Before entering the Bizarro world M drains you of all your powers, forcing you to relearn all that you know.
Early on you do not see much of a difference in strength, as the human enemies tend to be very weak. Once the monsters and boss battles come through the difficulty spikes, leading you to button-mash as much as possible. Fortunately the mashing you’ll be doing in Battle Grounds isn’t the kind that will leave your fingers all mangled and tied in knots, as the battle system here is a lot more comfortable than most of these old-school brawlers.
As you play through you collect coins for points, along with rubies and emeralds that will help level your character up. When you level up you are given the chance to up your attacks and defenses, as well as learn combos and special attacks that will help you wipe your enemies clean and swiftly. The downside with upgrades, though, is that you can only go up to Level 25, as reaching Level 99 requires a 400-point DLC purchase.
While the regular level cap is a bit of a drag, it doesn’t take away from the overall gameplay experience. Phantom Breaker is the type of title that you can bring a group of friends, either in person or online, and have crazy amounts of fun with these characters and worlds. While some may not be into playing as super-deformed anime girls the overall style of its gameplay will win just about anyone over. Everything here beckons back to the days of going to the local arcade downtown and playing the likes of The Simpsons Arcade Game and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, from its combo system to even the wonderfully nostalgic chiptune soundtrack.
One other downside to Battle Grounds is its story length. I beat it in under 90 minutes, which to be fair is probably the length of most arcade games from back then. That being said you would think that for 800 Xbox points the game would be a bit lengthier. There is fun to be had revisiting the game and leveling up the other characters. Battle Ground mode is enjoyable online, too, with you able to play as just about any of the characters in a one-round fight against three others. As of this writing there is some lag to be found when battling online, although this was most evident when playing as one of the non-arcade mode characters.
- Solid story mode
- Great online multiplayer play
- Kick-ass soundtrack nods to NES days
- Very short game
- May turn off non-anime fans
- Have to pay to upgrade past Level 25
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is the type of game people would’ve spent hundreds of quarters on at their local pizza joint had it existed back in the ’80s. With its colorful worlds, cute characters, and killer moves Battle Grounds has a lot for those looking for some cabinet-inspired gameplay in the comfort of their own home. Simply put: this Phantom Breaker spin-off is one of the best nods to arcade games of old since Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.
FINAL GRADE: 8.4 (out of ten)
Review copy provided by Strangely Compelling
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