Serendipity, or coincidence; I don’t usually talk behind the curtain stuff when doing my reviews on Pixelbedlam, however sometimes an odd thing happens that needs mentioning. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been in Japan on my honeymoon, my wife and I got engaged there last year and decided we had so much fun we’d go back for our post wedding break. It was as awesome as last time. Previously I’ve taken a 3DS to play whilst traveling but this year I succumbed to purchasing a Switch and taking that in my backpack. I loaded up the code for Phantom Breaker in my hotel and went off to Akihabara for a day of game shop trawling. Whilst waiting for my wife to go run some quick errands I sat in a café of sorts and loaded up the switch, it was a shock to the system to see the first level of Phantom Breaker Battle Grounds Overdrive was set in Akihabara, whilst I’m sat looking at said location. This obviously has no baring on my critique but it was an odd experience.

Phantom Breaker Battle Grounds Overdrive is a game that harks back to the classic side scrolling brawlers of the Megadrive and SNES. With Chibi style pixel characters generally wielding big weapons as they walk around places like Akihabara and Odaiba taking on the overly tanned Gyaru girls, golf club wielding salary men, pie throwing big fellas, punks and weird masked dancing guys. The game breaks down to the old school style of gaming where your objective is walk right, but to walk right you need to clear all enemies.

Phantom Breaker has a few different modes at launch, with online play coming next year apparently, up front you can choose story, battle ground or arcade. Arcade and Story offer much of the same experience apart from you’re not repeatedly tapping A to skip text in arcade. Battle Ground is a bit more of a traditional fighter but I’m not going to pretend this mode should be a draw for the game.

When you’ve picked your mode you must choose between a handful of anime girls all of whom start at level 0, as you play through the game you’ll be picking up money and gems from fallen foes which in turn level you up, which again in turn means you can progress on a individual skill tree for each character or give their health, defence or speed a bit more oomph. Finding your main is as slow as it is in any fighting game as you work through the list doing one level with each character to see who has the potential for you. For me the long reach Waka was my girl of choice. Each character has a light, medium and heavy melee attack, a range of magic attacks. All of which have the chance to be combo’d into each other if you really feel that way inclined but in all honesty the game can be completed by just repeatedly tapping medium attack and walking right. Obviously that’s a boring way to play and I personally got a sense of accomplishment from finding a range into magic into upper cut launch into down attack combo that would finish just about anyone off.

The problem is that as fun as that combo was to find, the rest of the game just doesn’t have any depth. The extras are all there, character progression and unlocks, various modes and difficulties and a pretty great implementation of up to 4 player co-op, but then when you’re actually in the game you realise how shallow it all feels. You have two planes of movement you can jump between, but I’m not sure why you would when enemies come to you, and outside of that it really is just take out these same handful of enemies over and over and over again until the 2 or so hour story is over. There is some depth with the combat, but there’s not reason for it. The backgrounds are great looking and the music is just perfect for the mood of the game, and to be honest you’re lucky you have the art and the music to enjoy because the actual gameplay is a little….boring.

It’s a damning thing to say about such a great presentation, and for £7 in the UK this really isn’t a bad price for what you’re getting, especially if playing with friends, but if you’re going to be soloing this game, then be warned the rinse and repeat repetition of the game will really start to have an effect on your mental state by the end of the 3rd or 4th stage of the game.

Aesthetically and audibly this is a great game, the style is there and everything work perfectly, but when a key part of any game should be fun then I’m sadly unable to recommend this game to people, it’s a slog of cookie cutter sequences where the only thing that changes is the number of enemies. The story is as anime as it gets with you having to find a missing sister whilst being a member of an ancient clan, and then something about parallel worlds. To be honest I actually zoned out pretty hard and went into auto pilot when playing Phantom Breaker. Want to get the most out of the game? Play with 4 people, I can honestly say I had a lot of fun with the local co-op giving an entirely new feel to the game and making it flow so much quicker. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Phantom Breaker Battle Grounds Overdrive on the Switch, I just feel like it didn’t necessarily take the best bits from the MegaDrive and SNES brawlers, and instead looked at all of the features without thinking about what translates to good gameplay in a modern context.

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