GAME NAME: Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive
DEVELOPER(S): 5pb., Mages
GENRE(S): Action, Beat ’em up
RELEASE DATE(S): July 21, 2015
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive is the online co-op current-gen re-release of 2013’s Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds. So if you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s your quick primer on where we’re at.
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive stars a quartet of Shibuya-type girls with weapons, smashing their way through dozens of stages of bad guys to ultimately… do something. To call the plot long-winded and bloated is an understatement. It involves a few parallel universes, a kidnapping, and fights against invaders from other dimensions. This exposition is presented in text walls at the beginnings of stages, and pushed along by boss soliloquies and conversations. All this is mostly skippable though in story mode, and in arcade mode it’s completely ignored, favoring a simple score-attack style to the stages.
The game plays out as a beat-em-up style arcade action game; think Scott Pilgrim Vs. Robot Men With Cat Ears. There are only two layers in the stages – foreground and background – which limits vertical movement, but makes it much easier to line up attacks and evade projectiles. Something coming at you? A quick tap of L1 hops you to the other field, where you can watch the cake (or whatever) sail by harmlessly. It’s a pretty smooth quirk of gameplay in that its limitation actually makes the game easier to handle than similar titles.
Otherwise, however, the game devolves into a button-mashing thumb exhauster. Three main attacks – light, medium, strong – and a few other options such as a powerup ranged strike and jump attacks are about it. There are more complex throws, counter-hits, and specialized combos, but the game can be beaten just as handily by tapping square until everyone drops coins and rubies. After every fully-complete stage, your character levels up, which allows you to assign points into attributes, or unlock new abilities and moves. And with a level 99 cap, you can really make your little chibi girls kick some serious butt. But even with this depth of ability customization, you can still just mash buttons to win.
Unless you’re playing Battle Mode, which pits you against your friends in local co-op, or the occasional random stranger online. The combos (and especially the breaks and throws) play an important role in beating real people and keeping yourself alive. Co-op extends to regular stages as well, so you can go through the game with a buddy and mash buttons together. Unfortunately, this is marred by a painfully small online presence that rarely functions correctly. Over the week I was working with it, I managed to SEE 5 games, and correctly connect without dropping to ONE. And without any level or guideline restrictions in battle mode, your level 7 Mikoto will get stomped into a fine grey powder by a level 85 Waka every single time.
The graphics here are quite well-done, though. Sprite and dot-based design and animation has been entirely hand-done, so everyone’s movement – enemies and protagonists alike – are smooth and fluid. Hand-drawing these also leads to fun animations, such as when the cat-eared robo-goons dance in the background while they wait to fight you. The sizing of some enemies is interesting as well, and the overall design of the enemies is great. Those cat guys get me every time, but you’ll also be drawn in by giant letterman-wearing thugs, businessmen with golf clubs, and amazonian catgirls that will kick you viciously. Sound and music is a bit generic, though. Voicing is entirely in Japanese with English subtitling, and the music is entirely forgettable generic action rock. Although I hate the term, it strives for – and achieves – the “old school” aesthetic that is so popular with the kids these days.
An interview with the producer a few years ago sums up the game in its entirety. He wanted the game to be an entry-level, easy to learn intro into these kind of side scrolling action games. In that regard, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive achieves its goal. It’s a good start, but there’s a lot more out there to get into. And although the online inclusion is great, with a tiny community and below-average connectivity, it’s a lonely fight in Shibuya.
If you’re interested in the genre and this is your first foray, it’s a good option – especially since Scott Pilgrim isn’t on PS4. Otherwise, this title is tough to recommend aside from its great art style.
I found this “poster” on the developer’s official blog. Interpret it how you will; especially that last panel.