Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Mages Inc.
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2017


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Switch Review - 'Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive'

by Cody Medellin on May 1, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a cooperative action game for up to four players. Dash around the screen, defeat enemies, raise your levels, assign skills and enjoy head-to-head fights.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds has been kicking around for four years. It started life on the Xbox 360 as a spin-off to a fighting game that never made it out of Japan. A year later, it landed on the Vita before jumping over to the PC. Gaining a new subtitle with Overdrive, it went to the PS4 with some tweaks in tow, like an expanded move set. The game has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch and while its age will make you wonder if a port is a good idea, the voracious appetite of Switch owners for games says otherwise.

Set in Japan, the story tells the tale of a being named Phantom that has ruled over a parallel world of demons. Seeking more land to rule, he invades the human world when he is confronted by Mikoto and her friends Itsuki, Waka and Yuzuha. In an attempt to gain an advantage, he kidnaps Mikoto's sister, forcing the quartet to sacrifice their powers to travel to the monster dimension and save Mikoto's sibling.

Players will immediately notice that Battle Grounds Overdrive does a few things differently from other beat-'em-up titles. For starters, it seems to have taken its fighting game roots and adapted them to the new play style. Instead of one attack button, you have four. Three of the buttons dictate the strength of your attack, while the fourth produces a special attack, usually in the form of a projectile. The up direction now makes you jump, and you can use directional movements in conjunction with face buttons to bring about different attacks. One beat-'em-up mainstay remains: the special attack that clears the screen with the press of a button — provided you've built up enough special energy.

Aside from its own fighting game heritage, the game also picks up a few things from the classic Guardian Heroes. You're restricted to fighting on two definitive planes, so there are no chances for you to miss because you're slightly out of alignment with your opponent. You also get to level up your characters by picking up gems in the field to gain more techniques and stat upgrades. The only thing to watch out for is that leveling only happens between stages, so you can't suddenly become stronger in the middle of the fight. At the very least, you can redistribute your points, encouraging you to experiment with loadouts.

The result of this combination is a game where the fighting is absolutely wild but in a good way. Your moves always come out in a flurry to the point where you'll sometimes be beating up corpses since you've blown past the number of moves needed to kill someone. The plethora of enemies in your path will remind you of a side-scrolling Dynasty Warriors, since your moves always connect to multiple enemies at a time. The enemy variety ensures that you can't simply button-mash, as every foe requires a different strategy to defeat, and the game length is perfect in that you don't feel like the experience drags on. Overall, the pacing is good enough to fill an afternoon.

Battle Grounds Overdrive presents you with four modes, although only three of them will be of any interest to most players. The Battlegrounds mode isn't terrible, but versus modes in beat-'em-ups usually end up being novel at best, and even with an expanded move set at your disposal, that feeling doesn't change here. Story mode is where you'll spend all of your solo time, since you'll get a better sense of what's going on with in-game cut scenes. It also starts off in an interesting fashion, since you'll be completely powered up in the first stage, but after you lose your powers at the end of the first big fight, subsequent stages have you working your way back up the power ladder. Arcade mode tacks on a score, while co-op gives you the ability to tackle the story with three other friends at your side. Interestingly, this mode is more difficult, since you don't get your full powers at the beginning, making the first stage very tough. The mode also throws out all of the cut scenes, so those craving a narrative aren't going to find it here.

For the most part, the game is exactly the same as the PS4 version save for one area: online play. It simply doesn't have it, making multiplayer a local affair only. On the one hand, this feels like a strange omission. Online performance for the Switch system is quite solid, as demonstrated in a bevy of other titles, so its removal is questionable. Then again, the online communities on the other platforms have been minimal to completely absent. It's possible that with such a poor showing in online communities, the energy was spent elsewhere instead.

The presentation hasn't changed in its journey to the Switch. The graphics sport a 32-bit sprite appearance that looks wonderful. The bright colors and fluid animation are eye-catching, but what's really impressive is the multitude of items that can flood the screen at once with no slowdown whatsoever. As for sound, the 16-bit chiptune soundtrack is catchy, and the fact you can switch between PCM and FM sound interfaces will give retro enthusiasts a kick. The voices also remain in Japanese, so one doesn't have to worry about a bad English track.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive remains a solid beat-'em-up no matter what system it appears on. The mixing of fighting game mechanics with a more modern beat-'em-up set of mechanics works well thanks to the fact that you're flooded with varied enemies. The leveling system and the inclusion of a good roster of characters adds replay value, while local co-op play makes up for the lack of online play, especially since the Switch has been touted as being big on local multiplayer. Overall, Battle Grounds Overdrive is another good choice for the console.

Score: 7.5/10

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