"A Schoolyard Battleground"
For a game in a franchise that has only had one previous game, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds has the feel of a game in a long-running series. A spin-off of a Japanese exclusive Xbox 360 fighting game that has had its US localization cancelled on and off a few times, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds takes the HD hand-drawn fighters and places them in a 16-bit beat 'em up. The result is a fun title with gameplay that can accommodate button mashers or those who want a deep combat system.
Players take on the role of the all-female roster as they set out to rescue their sister from the main villain and have their maxed-out powers taken from them in the first level. It's standard anime fare and the story doesn't get in the way of getting through the game if the player just wants to skip it. Unlike many other side scrolling beat 'em ups, this game is fully voiced for those who want to try to understand what's happening (and know Japanese).
The combat system uses three buttons: light, medium, and heavy, in addition to the D-pad to give the player a lot of ways to attack and get out of a situation. Movement isn't done the way that most beat 'em ups handle it, and it's instead handled through a two-lane system, where players must manually move between two lanes on the screen to fight enemies. While this may take some time to get used to, it does allow the game's defensive controls to be used easier than they would have been if there was free movement. Aside from the two-lane system, there's also a meter that fills during battle and can be filled up twice. Once level one is reached, pressing the medium and strong attacks allows the player to unleash homing projectiles, called the Strong Outrage Attack, and filling both levels allows for an even stronger version of an EX move that uses the entire meter.
With everything that is made available to the player, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds feels pretty solid for a beat 'em up. The gameplay is challenging but fair, with plenty of ways to get out of a difficult spot by mastering the game or powering through it by beefing up your characters through experience earned from defeated enemies. While the levels are mostly a breeze, the bosses will challenge you and help you learn the defensive options available. Guarding is pretty easy to do, and if a boss keeps killing you, even more abilities are available through the level up system; I didn't even recognize how many more things were made available for me to do as the game went on! Of course, points can always be put into attack power, defense and speed if that's your cup of tea.
Even more so than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds feels like a Paul Robertson animation short come to life. The levels are all set in various parts of Japan and all the enemies look bizarre but familiar, such as the buff guy with the Akuma hair. The situations presented by themselves with the school girl protagonists all in the context of a beat 'em up feels like Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006 fully realized. There is always something new being thrown at the player in each level, starting with the weird fan boys that your over-powered character fights in the first level in front of Club SEGA.
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds takes the template established by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game and surpasses that game with one simple bullet point: online play. Unlike Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game and Double Dragon: Neon, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds allows for four-player co-op and versus play online and locally. Naturally, the co-op mode is where it's at, with the versus mode being something that's just there, but it's the thought that counts.
Coming out of left field and having its own unique history, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a title worth trying out. The unique world and gameplay is something that all fans of beat 'em ups can enjoy at their own pace.
GameDynamo's Score for Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds (X360)
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