Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds on PC
Being a gamer in my 30s, I grew up in a world where side-scrolling brawlers were one of the most well-represented genre of games. With Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, I got to take an insane, Tokyo-themed trip down memory lane. A pure beat-em-up with fast-paced action, tricky combos, and a twisting plotline straight out of anime, Battle Grounds pits four young women against businessmen, robots, and creatures of darkness on a quest to save the kidnapped Nagi from the clutches of the evil Phantom. With smooth controls, floods of enemies, and a variety of landscapes to traverse, there’s a lot to take in – and a lot of fun to be had.
I mostly stuck to Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds‘ Story Mode. In this, we follow the story of one of the four protagonists as she slices and dices her way through Tokyo and beyond to save Nagi. Each of the four initial character choices operates a bit differently, with a variety of attacks and combos at their disposal. While I tried each of them at least once, the bulk of my play-through was with Yuzuha, a highly skilled and incredibly quick ninja; other characters include Nagi’s sister Waka, the brave warrior Mikoto, and fighting maid Itsuki. Each character brings a unique weapon and fighting style to the mix.
The story in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is convoluted and a bit off the rails. Centered around the rescue of Nagi from Phantom’s grasp, the tale weaves through multiple realities and realms as the girls strive to save their friend and prevent the return of Phantom’s powers. Along the way, you’ll face huge numbers of foes ranging from masked businessmen and street thugs to enormous demons and robots. There are some slow-down issues when the action really gets going, as dozens of enemies may flood the screen at a time; visibility becomes an issue, as well, but for the most part you’ll tear through the hordes without much trouble.
What Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds really brings to the table is a classic, 16-bit style and furious arcade action that almost never lets up. With potent bosses and the never ending stream of targets to beat on, there’s hardly a break in the action as players make their way through the world. One of the game’s most interesting features is the “track” system; each portion of each stage is split into two tracks — upper and lower — that you can switch freely between to dodge or assault enemies along the way. This two-tier system makes for interesting play, as some monsters may follow you from track to track, while others will use the other to attempt to avoid your onslaught.
Completing Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds’ story unlocks six more playable characters, who can then be used in any of the game’s modes. Taken from the story’s boss battles, these unlockable warriors bring some serious toughness to the mix, and make for great choices for the high-score challenge Arcade Mode, as well as being unique for making your way through Story Mode again. Local co-op supports up to four players, meaning that the full roster can definitely see some use along the way. I didn’t get a chance to try out either this or the grueling online player versus player mode, but I can imagine the carnage that could be wreaked by teaming any of these potent fighters up with one another.
Altogether, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds offers a great mix of insane action and intriguing story, though the combat is definitely the meat of the game. Slick, responsive controls and a variety of characters and abilities keep the game fresh. While the slow-down can be taxing at times, it doesn’t hinder gameplay enough to take away the fun, and I’ll be honest, I had more fun playing this one than I have with a brawler in a while. With a solid cast of characters, nonstop action, and solid 16-bit look and sound design, it’s a treat for those of us who recall the SNES/Genesis era with nostalgia. For anyone who enjoys the genre, it’s easily worth the $11.99 asking price on Steam ($9.59 on sale as of this writing), and may be worth a glance even if you’re not big on brawlers.