Truth be told, I missed nearly an entire generation of fighting games growing up. Perhaps it was THE fighting generation – the 16-bit era of home consoles and arcade machines. I might’ve had Mortal Kombat for the Sega Game Gear, but it was a poor man’s substitute for being able to play with a real controller. Thanks to developer Mattrified, we’ve all been given a chance to see that era again with Battle High: San Bruno, part of this year’s Indie Games Summer Uprising event.
Battle High has actually been out for a few months now on PC and was developed by a one-man team before being brought over to the Xbox. That fact alone is impressive and is a good example of the advantages XNA development gives to small development teams.
In case it wasn’t clear, Battle High: San Bruno is a 2D fighting game in the mold of the Street Fighter series. The game is set within the confines of your average high school with not so average students. Some of the students have developed special powers with each student having a different elemental theme like electricity, air, etc. Each fighter has their own motivations for ruling the hallways and you’ll be treated to a couple of conversations between you and your opponents during the course of the standard Arcade mode. These dialogues, though short, offer a little more character development, though the majority of the fighters are by and large forgettable.
Players have a few different types of standard attacks: weak and strong punches, weak and strong kicks, a throw, and an aerial attack. Each player also has a set of special attacks. The majority of those special attacks can be activated at any time via a button combo and reflect the fighter’s elemental abilities. Each fighter has one special power that can only be used when your special meter has built up by landing hits or taking them. This power is typically the strongest in each fighter’s arsenal and is generally either a high-damage attack or a defensive buff. A lot of people complain about playing fighting games on the Xbox controller with its inferior directional pad. While it was a little frustrating at times pulling off some of the advanced moves, I was able to adjust after a little bit of training.
I found the combat to be a little too easy. It should be noted that it wasn’t until after my first time playing all the way through the Arcade mode that I discovered the difficulty setting buried in the Options menu. By default the game is set a notch below average. Certain strategies seem to work a little too well such as cornering your opponent or doing leg sweeps. Even on the tougher difficulties I was able to mash the same attacks rather successfully. In fact, even as a novice fighting game player, I’ve yet to lose a match even after cranking the difficulty almost all the way up. Part of the upgrades to this version was removing the infinite juggling that was exploited in the PC version. I never once felt like any of the characters had a distinct advantage over the others, but discovering something like that can only be found over time. The real challenge for the game will be in playing human opponents which is where an online option would’ve been nice.
Besides the Arcade mode, there’s also a Challenge mode that allows you to pick a character and attempt to complete increasingly difficult moves or combos listed on the screen. I actually found this to be a great training mode even though there’s a separate training mode within the game. As anyone who plays fighting games can tell you, one of the keys to success is learning your fighter’s moves and then learning how to string them together in order to leave your opponent reeling.
As previously mentioned, the game supports multiplayer, but only locally. Online multiplayer would’ve been a nice inclusion, but as many fighting game purists will tell you offline multiplayer is the way to go to ensure that network lag doesn’t interfere with the outcome. A few of the “Extracurricular” activities, mini games that have you using your moves for challenges other than fighting, include support for two players. For example, in old-school kind of throwback, two players can try to demolish a car before the timer runs out. Honestly I don’t see myself playing these again after trying them once, but it was nice to see the developer throw in some bonuses to this version instead of just doing a straight port.
Overall I was fairly impressed with Battle High: San Bruno. The fighting system is solid enough, the presentation has a nice comic book style, and best of all it’s only 80 Microsoft points. That’s a dollar. It might not have the big name, production values, or lasting appeal of a Street Fighter IVor Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but I think you’d be hard pressed to deny the value of a solid fighter like this.
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