This review originally posted on Nintendo Scene on 27th January.
Have you ever wanted to fight your way through a series of generic Japanese tropes, while playing as slightly over-designed anime girls in a retro-style rendition of Japan? Well, do I have a treat for you. There’s a little game on the Switch eShop that fulfils that little dream called Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive. The question is, before we get lost in dreams of waifus in lolita clothing, how actually is the game?
The story, as many would expect from a game that looks like this one is a very simple premise that has a narrative that does not make a lick of sense until you reach the latter parts. The basic premise is that a girl called Nagi has been abducted, and it’s up to her friends (controlled by the player) to find and rescue her. The various friends have slightly different narratives and interact with the villains of the game in different ways, as well as having differing motivations for going on this quest. However, in terms of lore, this game is a spin off of the Japan-only fighting game Phantom Breaker, so a primer before this of the story of the original game wouldn’t have gone amiss. This isn’t a requirement for beating up waves of enemies, I guess, but would contextualise it a little for those that don’t know these characters or the world they inhabit.
The way this quest is played out is in a sequence of side-scrolling beat-em-up stages, with enemies coming through in waves on both of the two planes that the gameplay is spread across. If you think of the classics of this genre, like Golden Axe and Streets of Rage and you are roughly in the right ballpark, as you have to fight through screens of enemies, with your continued progress gated off until all enemies have fallen. Every character in the game plays slightly differently, owing to their differing weapons (Mikoto, for instance, uses a sword), but all have the same universal controls of having normal attacks, special attacks and screen-filling super attacks. These attacks can be strung together into various combos using all three types, and combined button presses can allow throws and jumping attacks.
This isn’t to say that this game is entirely like its forebears, as there are several marked differences to cement it as its own, unique experience. Firstly, to return to the planes of the gameplay, you can fight on a 2D perspective either in the foreground or the background, which can be jumped between with the press of a button. This needs to be done regularly as the enemies will jump between them to avoid you, and certain enemies have attacks that will travel the whole of a plane and the best way to dodge them and get in close is to switch planes then jump back practically in the face of them. This particular mechanic of the game can take some getting used to, but as the normal and special attacks change depending on if you are pressing up or down, it makes sense that movement is restricted to left and right by this gameplay feature.
The second key attribute of the game is the levelling system. All enemies drop two coloured orbs, one of which restore your health and the other of which is added to a kind of point total. These points are used to level up your character and unlock more abilities and moves, as your fully powered move list is removed after the end of the tutorial, giving you a taste of the full might of what you will be capable of a little later. These abilities include double-jumping, increasing the length of combos, and granting the use of more special attacks. Also, instead of enhancing your moveset, the same point pool can be used to increase Attack, Defence or Speed. This gives the player an astounding amount of flexibility in how they choose to enhance their characters.
The important thing to note about the levelling system in Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds is that you acquire these points whether or not you finish a level, so you can attempt the level again a little stronger than you were when you fell last time. This gives the player a sense of accomplishment regardless of how well they do in a given level, and really helps reduce the demoralising feeling that the player could feel after consecutive defeats on a given level. Also, as the game can be played in local multiplayer with up to four players supported in any level in the game, if also makes a fantastic party game to play with friends. This is especially true for the Battleground Mode, which pits up to four players against each other in a 4v4 battle royale.
Aesthetically, Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds is incredible. The retro-styled art style, using the chibi sprite work of the pre-existing characters fits perfectly with the cartoon representation of Tokyo. The enemies and main villainous characters are full of charm and follow the same design template, with some of the villains being laughably camp in their villainy. The animations are fluid and flashy for all of the movements and attacks, even those of the enemies, and the character customisations are all cute and should be noted for the fact that they do not look out of place, regardless of how absurd they might be. The soundtrack is phenomenal, taking the same route of chiptune high-tempo music that the Scott Pilgrim vs The World game did a few years back. This not only perfectly matches the visuals, but perfectly supplements the gameplay too, making a fantastically strong package.
So, should you buy Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive? My argument would be yes, especially as it is retailing for around £7 in the UK. The gameplay is solid, and the length of the game, although dependent on player skill, is very decent. The combined package of this game is one that has high production values far beyond the price tag, and tremendously fun to play too. If you like anime-style games, beat-em-ups, or games with ludicrous visuals, this is most definitely for you.
Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive is available right now on Nintendo Switch eShop.