Phantom Breaker Battle Grounds Overdrive Review

Starting out with an ability tease is always a bit of a risk – it can be really dispiriting to start a game, find yourself enjoying the mechanics only to have them all stripped away, leaving you to claw your way back to power. If the basic gameplay itself isn't strong enough, or you're taken back too far, it can make the early parts seem like a slog, making it hard to keep playing. Pathfinding games like Metroid are a good example of how to make this mechanic work. The world is built around finding upgrades and using them to open up the world. You never feel like you're underpowered for the sake of grinding. Plus there's the anticipation – you see a place you can't get to knowing that later you'll find the means to get you through it.

The ability tease is fine for Metroid but more more questionable for a beat-em-up. It can still work, though. A world design like River City Ransom that's sprinkled with stores that let you shop for upgrades and items works super well because  the stops are quick in-and-out trips that don't disrupt the flow and keep you on track. Alternately you can go for a system that's just unlocking more stuff based how much money you've earned in each level to create a balance that feels fair but that the improvements are just there to help you along. 

At the start of Phantom Breaker, your character charges in and is shown to be amazingly strong. The character I chose could shoot beams, slow time, and had a shadow that did extra damage. She made a really great first impression until those abilities were stripped away after the first level, replaced with a simple light/medium/heavy combo system. Attack power is hits rock bottom and you don't even have the "overdrive" power alluded to in the title. You have to buy everything back and that's not really the best move. 

The first couple of levels in the game suggest that you have to grind in order to power yourself up. In the first level I got to the boss a couple of times and kept losing to her, so I'd have to replay it again to get enough money to buff the character further to survive. A shop might have helped but you can only buy upgrades between levels or after dying. so if you have enough money to buy the upgrades that will help you beat the level, you are still going to replay the entire level all over again.

Though to be fair, it kind of doesn't matter what level you're playing since they are all more or less the same, just with a different coat of paint. The game's a side-scrolling beat-em-up with a foreground and background layer that you can switch to and from with the tap of a shoulder button, and while it does change the look of the of the stage, though not by much, the gameplay remains the same. In other words, you are always moving across a flat surface in a manner that's extremely straight forward. There aren't even any environmental hazards to avoid.

When you finally get yourself strong enough to get through levels (buying that shadow upgrade is the best because you essentially do two attacks at once!) instead of the frustration over grinding for money and abilities is replaced with something else: boredom. The boredom associated with plowing through enemies that pose almost no challenge to your character. My strategy? Jump into a corner and attack enemies as they walk to you until you're hitting multiple enemies at once without a care. Some of the larger enemies are a little more difficult, but once you break their guards, it's the exact same strategy. You have other powers, like being able to guard, but for the most part they are not needed. 

At its best this game has a similar appeal to that of a Dynasty Warriors game--a type of game that makes you feel good as you mow down waves of enemies with ease. At least Dynasty Warriors has a modicum of tactical gameplay as you rush to defend zones, save allies, and destroy enemy forces. The simplistic combat of Phantom Breaker doesn't give you much to do except hitting attack buttons until you get a level break. Upgrade, hop back in, repeat. There are some late game complications but by the time they were introduced, I was already burned out. It's also worth mentioning that four player local co-op is supported with online connectivity removed until the Nintendo service is finally launched.

I wasn't the biggest fan of this one. It's a simple game that quickly left me bored and never got much better. The game is alright in some areas but it suffers from being mindless and simple, which isn't what I look for in a game. Phantom Breaker serves a purpose, though the Switch is so loaded down with games at this point that space on the console is better off being used for something else.