CHIBIS AND ALL OUT ACTION
Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds is an unexpected surprise for such an obscure title. I’m not a huge fan of side-scrolling brawlers (though I’ve played my fair share) and I haven’t heard much about this game before, except that it was previously released in 2013 for the Xbox Live Arcade on Xbox 360. Despite this, Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds provided one of the best casual gaming experiences I had in a long time with its re-release on the PlayStation Vita.
Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds is a 2D side-scrolling brawler that follows in the footsteps of classics such as Double Dragon and Guardian Heroes, but the game establishes a unique identity of its own in the crowded genre.
I instantly fell in love with the game’s chibi-styled characters who are rendered as 16-bit character sprites. Initially, players will have access to a cast of four heroines (Fifth character is coming as DLC); each with their own unique attributes, fighting styles and appealing character design.
The story follows these four heroines as they embark on a quest to defeat the evil ‘Phantom’ who has kidnapped the sister of one of our heroines, before being stripped of their powers. Soon our four heroines are thrown into another dimension where they must battle through hordes of enemies to regain their powers as well as rescue the aforementioned sister. However, the story is quite generic and the narrative can be predictable at times. Some of the characters seemed irrelevant to the story and felt they were included for the sake of expanding the playable roster.
Combat takes place between two different horizontal planes which players can easily switch between with a simple shoulder button press. However, as players progress further into the game and begin to encounter larger foes, the camera can become obstructed, which does get slightly annoying. Attacks are divided into four types: weak, medium, heavy and special attacks. Each type of attack comes with their own advantages and disadvantages in the heat of battle. There is quite a fair amount of depth in the game’s combat, with emphasis on chaining combos through combining the various types of attacks. Nevertheless, simple button mashing will work quite effectively as well. However, there is no denying the combat’s repetitive nature, which is expected as a signature flaw of the game’s genre. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t provide a tutorial to teach players the basics. I was left scrolling through menus to understand the game’s combat mechanics and controls. While this didn’t do much to hinder the experience, it was still annoying and unwelcoming to newcomers.
There is a wide range of enemies to fight, ranging from possessed humans, deadly robots and huge monsters. However, each of them have very little differentiation in their designs, which is limited to slight variations in their clothing or colour palette. It becomes tedious to slay hundreds of enemies who look similar.
For a game that is being re-released on a new console, particularly the PlayStation Vita, it is disappointing to see that Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds doesn’t make use of the Vita’s unique features like the front & rear touchpads.
Red gems, dropped by fallen foes, serve as the primary currency in leveling up and upgrading characters. With each level up, players gain more points to invest in either a character’s attributes or skill tree. Players can also retract their skill points to reinvest and customise their ideal character builds to suit their play style with no negative consequences. Unfortunately, the game stumbles with its skill tree which doesn’t provide any explanation or instruction on which buttons to press to use skills. As such, players will be left blind as to how to perform their newly unlocked abilities. As a result, players are deprived from a sense of accomplishment when leveling up.
In addition to the game’s story mode (which supports co-op), Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds also features an arcade mode that challenges players to obtain high scores and complete levels in record time. Finally, Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds has its namesake battlegrounds mode where players can challenge each other in fierce multiplayer duels.
The 16-bit retro art style looks great with excellent hand-drawn backgrounds juxtaposed by beautiful and well-animated character sprites. Complementing this appealing art style is a wonderful retro soundtrack that I found quite catchy.
The Verdict: 7.7 out of 10
With its appealing art style, excellent retro soundtrack, well-animated character sprites and variety of game modes, there is a lot to love with Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds. While the game isn’t perfect and does have its fair share of prominent flaws, the game had everything that I want from a good side-scrolling brawler game. It feels right at home on the PlayStation Vita. I would highly recommend Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds to Vita owners looking for a good casual game to play on the go.
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