People that follow the fighting game genre may have heard of an Xbox 360 game called Phantom Breaker. It was never released outside of Japan, and it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon. This hasn’t stopped Division2 from bringing the spin-off, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds to Xbox Live Arcade. The big difference is that rather than a traditional one-on-one fighter, this is a side scrolling beat ‘em up.
Battle Grounds, much like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, is a sprite-based brawler that focuses on cooperative play, flashy combos, lots of enemies and a retro feel. There are four characters to choose from, and each can be leveled up and powered up with new skills and increased stats. The game uses a four-button layout with weak, medium, strong and special attacks, complemented by an evade and a meter-based super move.
I performed combos relatively easily by just mashing buttons, but where the game really shines is in the complexity of some moves. Battle Grounds feels like a fighting game in this sense. Starting a combo with a weak attack then medium and strong and finally following up with a special that can launch enemies into the air is very satisfying. Juggling enemies is as fun as it is in fighting games. It never gets too overly complicated, but for the players that dig deeper than button mashing, it works very well.
Enemies drop coins and experience gems that go towards leveling up the characters (but aren’t shared amongst the party). After each stage, skill points can be used to improve stats (attack power, defense, and speed) or unlock new and improved skills. As of right now, the level cap is at 50, and using the same character throughout the main story almost guarantees you’ll reach it.
Battle Grounds is relatively short with only eight stages, but playing though again with a different character is encouraged. The game can be played through single player, local co-op and online co-op. There is also a versus mode that has players battling each other much like in Castle Crashers. The versus is fine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the co-op.
Characters can move between the background and the foreground with a simple button press, and some enemies will attack in both sections. This can also be used for a quick evade if things are getting rough. One big problem I have is that some enemies will take up half the screen. Player characters in the background are obscured, making it hard to see what’s going on. It can get frustrating.
The art style has a nice 16-bit or 32-bit look to it, and the characters are animated very well. I can tell there has been attention to detail. The story mode is Japanese subtitled, and the tale is nothing much to write home about. In fact, the co-op removes the story completely. Just know the heroes are anime girls and Phantom is the big bad guy, and it’s up to the anime girls to beat up all the bad guys. I have to mention, the soundtrack to the game is fantastic. The chiptunes sound gives off an old school vibe that fits the game perfectly.
The game play is really what makes Battle Grounds special. The complex options at my disposal always have me thinking about other attacks I can fit into a combo. With more players, the game gets even more hectic. Unfortunately, I have experienced a significant amount of lag and slowdown in online co-op. It didn’t happen in all my games, but it was present in many of them. Local co-op is great, but players have to share the same screen.
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a really fun game, and well worth the $10 entry fee. Local co-op is a blast, and you don’t have to be the best video game player to enjoy it. The combo system is deep and adds a lot, and leveling up and improving my characters keeps me coming back for more. Hopefully with a patch, the online can be a bit more stable. Even as a single player game, it’s a good deal for the price. If you’re a fan of beat ‘em ups or a fan of fighting games, you should really check out Battle Grounds.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.