One of my favorite genres of all time is the beat’em up. I can’t even begin to count the number of quarters that I have pumped into games like Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Simpsons, and X-Men in my early years. That doesn’t even take into account the countless hours I have poured into console games like Streets of Rage and River City Ransom. The gameplay is fun, frantic, and addicting,especially when you bring along a couple of friends. Over the years, as I have gotten older, I have also gained an appreciation for role playing games and similar, deeper experiences. The thought of combining the two, just sounds plain joyous to me, which is probably why Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds (PBB) appeals to me so much.
Where does one even begin to describe the world of PBB? Part beat’em up, part RPG, part fighting game, the XBox Live Arcade game is almost a perfect blend of my favorite genres. Phantom Breaker is a highly rated fighting game that was released in Japan last year; somewhere along the way, despite rave reviews, the English version has gotten lost in translation and is stuck in the localization process. In the mean time, the developer has taken the colorful characters and crazy world and scaled it back a beat in the style of a classic, 16-bit beat’em up brawler called PBB.
The character style is extremely exaggerated, akin to is referred to as the “chibi" style. While the world may look like 16-bit, pixelated graphics, it surely don’t move like games from that era. The animation used in the game is top notch and extremely detailed, in the backgrounds and especially in the characters. It looks very stylish and is a joy to see in motion. Despite the cutesy look and vintage style, Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds is brimming with modern gameplay features that blend well with the classic, beat’em up style. It’s is one of those games that is easy to pick up and play, but harder to put down and master. The first level really come across as a button mashing experience, which may turn some players off; stick with the game however and you will soon see the greatness it has to offer. You start off the game at full power, having access to your full skill tree and tons of special abilities. In traditional RPG fashion however, you will soon find yourself stripped of all of your powers and forced to earn it all back through the course of the adventure. This is when things become clear that this is more than just a simple button masher.
Once you have been stripped of your powers, you will need to spend the experience that you gain from defeating enemies on increasing your stats and unlocking powers from your skill tree. This works wonders at teaching you the fine mechanics of the the game’s deep combat system. There are three attack buttons and a special button; the three levels of attack string into each other in what seems like endless combinations, offering tons of attack chains. When you combine the robust options of these controls with the numerous playable characters, each with different weapons, the game offers a ton of variety.You only start off with 4 characters to choose from, but after completing the game’s story mode, you will have a much larger cast to choose from (plus available DLC).
PBB also gives you a couple of modes of play as well. In addition to playing through a story mode, you have a choice of an arcade mode and a versus mode as well. The story tells the tale of Cocoa, who has been kidnapped by the mysterious Phantom. It is up to you to choose one of the four main characters, including her sister, and rescue her. While the story won’t win any writing awards, it serves its purpose in keeping things moving along and introducing you to this crazy world. Once you beat the story, at least on the first difficulty level of choice (additional difficulties will become available), then you can tackle the same stages over in the Arcade mode to vie for a high score.
The best part of all of this, as with any classic beat’em up, is that the adventure is mean to be experienced with friends. You can take up to three friends with you into battle, regardless of the mode, both online and offline. If you want to take things a little further and move into a more competitive realm rather than working together all of the time, there is also the option of partaking in a battle mode which will let you fight it out amongst each other for supremacy.
The online play gets the job done, but I have to admit that it could be a lot better. There is a bit of noticeable lag that detracts from the overall experience, forcing me to prefer the couch-coop option when given the chance. It is also a little hard to find games online, but that isn’t the developer’s fault. More people need to wake up and realize just what this game has to offer and join in on the fun online and help this community grow.
In addition to the incredibly stylized, 16-bit graphics, PBB is also sporting an absolutely rocking chiptune soundtrack. The OST for this game is amazing and among the best that I have heard in that genre. I guess that is why they have been offering tracks for download via Soundcloud
recently, as the fans have been demanding it!
Sure, it has a major repetitive aspect to it, but that comes with the genre. I have seen other people complaining about the repeated usage of similar character models in the enemies; do these people know their history? That is what the classics did and I took it as paying homage to the great fighters that filled my childhood. In terms of the gameplay, the developers have gone a long way to help alleviate that sense of monotony with the various RPG elements like character leveling and the skill tree. Sure, there are some things that could have been done better, but the game as a whole is immensely enjoyable and addictive, just as I had hoped. Definitely give this one a try!