Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a co-op beat-em-up game that hit Xbox Live Arcade in 2013. A year later it found more fans when it moved to PlayStation Vita. Now, the PC release is finally here, so we can all stand for applause. Think of PBB like River City Ransom, Scott Pilgrim or Double Dragon, only a little more on rails and a little more focused on attack strategy and combos.
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is actually a spin-off from Phantom Breaker, a one on one fighting game released in 2011 for Xbox 360. Battle Grounds takes elements from the fighter and turns everything into a sidescrolling beat-em-up, complete with adorable (but still frightening) chibi versions of some of the main characters. It's easy to see the cross-genre influences, especially when you take a look at the light-medium-hard attack style button layout. Street Fighter says hi!
The story in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is, let's see, intricate. A lot of it is told through pages of text and pre-boss conversations, and it involves things like parallel dimensions, a bad guy named Phantom, something about a kidnapped sister, and four warriors who are out to rescue her. That's a great excuse to get out there and punch some stuff, so choose your character and get started.
Moves variety is one of the best things about Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds. You can jump, dash, throw, guard break and guard cancel, for starters. Many of those moves can be chained with light, medium and hard attacks for even more variety. Each of the main attacks moves at its own speed and deals a corresponding amount of damage, heavy attacks being slower but hurting a lot more, for example. It naturally sets things up for combos, which are counted on the screen and help build your special attack meter.
Levels in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds are divided into two tracks: the foreground and the background. You can't freely move between them, you can only switch when you're at a standing position by pressing the L button. Putting the action on two confined stages brings its own level of strategy. The two tiers don't interact with each other, meaning enemies have to cross over in order to attack. The usual beat-em-up rule of "keep everybody in front of you" still applies, but with the two levels to think about, you have to reserve a sliver of your awareness for the back- and foreground.
You'll also want to keep an eye out for collectibles in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds. Grabbing gems that burst out of defeated enemies and destroyed props go toward your experience points. Characters have skill trees you get to fill out by spending said points, adding a slight RPG flavoring to the mix. Each warrior levels up independently of the others and has separate attack, defense and speed stats that need boosting, too. Collect gems during combat and bring them to the character stat screen after each stage to buff the ladies up one slot at a time.