Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive Review
Phantom Breaker Battle Grounds: Overdrive is a 2D, retro-inspired beat-em-up, as well as a spin-off of the Phantom Breaker fighting game series. The game was well-received when it landed on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation Vita earlier this year, and now developer MAGES has decided to bring the game to the PlayStation 4 with a few additional features.
At first glance Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive appears to emulate the simplicity of classic side-scrolling brawlers such as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. However, upon closer inspection, its ties to the original Phantom Breaker fighting game (which never released in the west) lend it a considerable amount of depth. There’s a variety of combos that can be achieved by mixing and matching heavy, medium and light attacks, as well as special moves and attributes that can be unlocked/ leveled up using the game’s currency. Taking hits and dealing damage both fill a light blue bar underneath your health meter, which can be filled twice to unleash devastating attacks. While Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive can feel overwhelming at first (especially in this new PS4 version, which throws even more enemies at the player at once), as you grind through the levels and level up your character of choice things get a bit more manageable.
Enemies attack in very large clusters, literally covering the entire screen at times. They have no qualms about ganging up on your character, spamming their cheapest moves in quick succession, so it’s wise to learn a few “crowd control” moves from the outset to help protect against these swarms. The characters fight on a 2D plane, but can switch between a foreground and background plane at the touch of a button. When enemies are defeated, the explode into gold coins and jewels (similar to the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World videogame), which you’ll need to strengthen your character’s attributes.
Be warned that Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive is seriously challenging, and a lot of the enemies and bosses can be ridiculously cheap. If this is the kind of thing that easily frustrates you, I would suggest changing the difficulty to Easy from the outset. The massive swarms of enemies definitely keep you on your toes throughout, however you’ll often be instantly bombarded by attacks if you remain on the ground for more than a second. This is troublesome as it forced me to spam cheap moves like an airborne throwing star attack until I managed to pare the crowds down to a reasonable size, before being able to actually utilize any of the interesting ground combos available to me.
Each of the four female characters (Itsuki, Yuzuha, Waka, and Mikoto from Phantom Breaker) fight a bit differently, with well-animated attacks and different weapons and signature moves. The graphical style is inspired, featuring 3D backgrounds and pixelated 2D sprites, which reminded me instantly of the great Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World game. Between the interesting visual style, and the variety in the level design, enemies and attacks, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive commanded my attention for the entirety of its 8 challenging levels. Makise Kurisu (from the popular anime and game series Steins;Gate) is available in this new version via DLC.
Overall, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive is a very fun, addictive throwback title that will keep you challenged and engaged throughout. Leveling up your characters feels rewarding, and upgrades are kept throughout all game modes giving the game a fair amount of replayability. While the swarms of enemies and cheap AI can be frustrating at times, the fast-paced beat-em-up action is very enjoyable and polished. If you have fond memories of pumping quarters into arcade games like Streets of Rage and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Phantom Breakers: Battle Ground Overdrive is absolutely worth checking out.