When it comes to resurrecting older games on new consoles I’m all in. Recently I’ve been on board with the Resident Evil HD Remastered on next gen/PC and the Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride on mobile devices. The next game on this list for me is Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds now on Steam-PC. This beat ‘em up originally came out worldwide on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2013. It later came to the PlayStation Vita in 2014. Now, as of January 23rd 2015, you can buy it on Steam.
For a better understanding of this game, it helps to look more at where it came from. Phantom Breaker is a 2D fighting game that first existed in arcade form but later was ported to Xbox 360 and PS3 in Japan only. While it was supposed to come to North America, it never did. The characters in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds come from Phantom Breaker – including the four playable characters. So yeah, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a spin off. While the fighting game used a more traditional anime-esque art style, Battle Grounds went for the chibi approach.
The influence of being a spinoff of a fighting game is quite apparent in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds' elaborate combat system. It takes advantage of the trend of making brawlers more like fighting games. Sure you’ll be faced with what seems like an endless flow of dudes to fight, but it’s how you fight them where this spin off shines. The game allows for cancels, counters, blocking, recovery, guard breaks, emergency mode (combo breakers), and many other typically fighting game only traits. Sure you can button mash your way to victory in earlier difficulties, but learning how/when to cancel and create advanced combos will take you much further.
While on the topic of move sets, I need to mention controls. While the game allows for keyboard – the actual keyboard controls are rather ambiguous. The ‘controls’ section of options shows a gamepad and well, you should really be using a gamepad. Even if you somehow figured out the controls, would you really want to pull off advanced combos with a keyboard? Try playing the original Dark Souls with keyboard, you’ll hate yourself in no time. I enjoy playing these types of beat ‘em ups with a fight stick if you one available. Hell, if they are going to make the controls like a fighting game, play it like a fighting game.
You’ll have the choice of four characters to play around with. Everything you do with these characters gains them permanent experience points and levels. So if you want to start over or play on a higher difficulty, all of your unlocks carry over. This adds a quasi-RPG element to the gameplay. You choose who your character levels through points gained per level. Here you can level stats like offense, defense, and speed or unlock new moves/abilities. Similar to Metroid games, your character will start with everything unlocked and then lose everything due to plot stuffs. Thus by the second level you’re starting all over from scratch.
The plot is well, basic. Waka is trying to get her sister back and the other three are sort of there for the ride. There are other versions of characters, different dimensions, potential time travel… lots going on. This is a beat ‘em up though. Trudge through armies of dudes, bash their faces in, and win. While I’ll admit the story didn’t grab me, I honestly don’t feel like it needed to. Despite every character having the same ranged-homing attack, the four play quite differently. For this reason, I’d suggest playing the first level with each character to figure out who you like the most.
At first glance, it’s simple to assume the game is fairly simple. The choice of chibi and pixel art gives off that retro appeal. Don’t be fooled by this though. If the art style doesn’t appeal to you, the action is smooth and solid at 60 FPS. For this game to be successful, the combos absolutely need to be flawless. Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds nails this. The character motion, attack response, and fluidness of combos are remarkable. At times there can be so much on the screen at once that you’re going to be happy about the locked FPS.
All levels exist on two plains/tracks. These are great for managing the amount of dudes you’re handling at once and to dodge area of effect attacks – or the large dudes that throw pies for some reason. As you murder everything, power ups, experience, points, and health drops will rain from foe corpses. You’re going to want to collect all of this. These power ups will lead to more levels, better exp multipliers, and grant you the ability to use special attacks more often. While you can start on easy or normal, other difficulties will be unlocked as you complete the game on the mode that's one level easier – to unlock hard you beat it on normal for example.
Here’s the big kicker. While Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds does have co-op mode, it’s local only. So while the previous versions had online multiplayer, the PC port doesn’t. While I’ve heard that the multiplayer was buggy before, the choice to remove it is disappointing for a game released on Steam. I know only a handful of PC users that are huge on the couch co-op train. Sure Steam does have Big Picture Mode, but unless you’ve planned your PC/TV relationship around it or able to use wireless controllers, it’s not ideal for couch co-op. As much as I’ve enjoyed Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, it would definitely be more fun with friends online.
For a $12 game, currently $10, this game is worth the purchase if you like good beat ‘em up with advanced input options. You’re going to want to get/use a gamepad or fight stick. A single run through is about four hours depending on how much trouble the bosses give you (they get pretty difficult). With several unlockable difficulties, time/score trials, and four characters to level – there is a ton of replayability. If you have the set up to optimize co-op, that’s even more opportunity for jolly cooperation. At this price, this beat ‘em up is definitely worth it.