It’s no secret that the beat-em-up genre sort of died out back after the 90’s. Fans of the genre still exist and are dedicated to the golden days of simplistic side scrolling action. Unfortunately, most attempts at recreating 90’s classics has led to a wave of bland monotonous games that released then quickly faded into obscurity. Video game developer, 5pb, is looking to revitalize the genre with Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds but does this game stand strong as a modern 90’s classic or is it just another modern day clone?
Phantom Breaker puts players into the role of their chosen character and involves a story where their full potential is available to them right at the start but is then taken away. This allows players to witness the full power of their characters while still allowing them to go through the RPG phases of leveling up a character and watching them grow into powerful beings. A small cast of enemies can make gameplay a bit repetitive at times but the ability to jump back and forth between the background and foreground helps overshadow this flaw by giving players two battles to hop in and out of at will during every level.
The game’s online co-op feature allows players to join with up to three other friends via Xbox LIVE and take down waves of enemies together. It’s a common feature in modern gaming but is sadly not included in a lot of beat-em-up titles. Luckily, 5pb have taken a note from The Behemoth’s 2008 hit, Castle Crashers on this one.
Phantom Breaker: Battleground gives players the choices of various female protagonists, each wielding different types of melee weaponry and featuring slightly altered stories. The main story arc is the same throughout these characters; their sister has been kidnapped and they must rescue them. It’s a pretty standard story but lengthy, complex tales are not something to be expected from the beat-em-up genre. In the game, players will play through the first level with all of their characters maxed out abilities and moves, only to have it taken away by the antagonist, who then casts them into a vortex. Fighting your way out to rescue your sister is basically the name of the game. It’s been done to death but is almost a staple of the beat-em-up genre.
Graphics:A lot of indie games of late have been leaning more towards cartoon animation instead of expensive 3D graphics. Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds uses this art style well, depicting real life Japanese districts, albeit with a comedic spin, and lovable chibi-style characters that creates a unique visual theme that maintains itself throughout the course of the game.
While there are no impressive cut scenes to be had, the vibrant visuals that appear during combat really help distract from the monotony that can come from not having breaks in between gameplay and lengthy dialogue sequences. Flashy damage counters appear over enemies when they’re hit, along with hit counters and stat messages for strategic moves such as the block breaker. A tasty blend of these elements makes the entire combat system flow smoothly and gives that satisfaction that was introduced into console gaming by games like Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds features four playable characters, with more being unlocked as you progress through the game and even more coming through upcoming DLC, 5pb’s latest title is not exactly lacking in variety for players. It does, however, lack in enemy variety, which can cause the gameplay to become tedious during longer playing sessions.
Aside from the regular solo campaign, Battlegrounds features an online co-op feature that separates itself from the original story and acts as a place to burn some frustration and time with friends, beating up more baddies than their hearts could possibly desire. Another available mode titled Battleground Mode shows 5pb’s fighting tournament influences with a feature that allows players to take their characters online and pit them against other players in brutal combat. This is a feature borrowed from the original Phantom Breaker game that Battlegrounds is a spin off of. Fun fact: the original Phantom Breaker has been in development limbo for the longest time and has yet to release. 5pb does confirm that the game is still coming and that we should be seeing it sometime this year.
Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds is an interesting and refreshing take on the beat-em-up genre. A mixture of new and exciting features combined with some very obvious flaws resulting in a degree of monotony makes this a game that simply cannot appeal to all audiences. That being said, any side scrolling fan will surely see Battlegrounds as a diamond in the rough and will definitely be satisfied with the 800 MS Points they’ll be coughing up for it.