By: David Cooper
At first I was wary of playing a fighting game the same weekend as I received Marvel vs Capcom 3, thinking I would tire of punching people in the face. But after spending a fair amount of time with Battle High: San Bruno, I can honestly say that not only is it a solid fighting game, but also one of the most polished Xbox Live Indie Games I have encountered. It’s only 80 Microsoft Points – quick, if you get it now it’ll have downloaded by the time you read this review!
Battle High: San Bruno is a 2D beat-’em-up from developer Point Five Projects. At its heart it is pure Street Fighter – characters have weak and strong punches, weak and strong kicks, unique combos and specials. Fighting is fairly technical, and you’ll have to know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to succeed. There are only eight characters, but they offer a lot of depth in knowing tactics and fundamentals.
The game has somewhat of a throwback appearance, staying fairly low-res with its backgrounds and sprites. However, the sprites are quite detailed and beautifully animated, meaning the game never looks ugly. It is difficult to tell whether the graphics are intended as homage to older fighters, or whether this is the limit of the artists’ capabilities, but either way, it works. My only criticism of the graphics is that there is no widescreen support during gameplay – menus fill the screen but fights take place in a smaller 4:3 box within, which detracts from the experience a little.
The characters are typically varied for a game of this nature – some are fast, some are strong and heavy, some have projectiles, some are defense focused, etc. That said, playing through arcade mode told me their back stories and I found myself more engrossed than I expected. A lot of care has been taken to develop relationships between these characters, even if it is only shown through 30-second conversations before fights.
I admit I’m not the most experienced fighting game aficionado, but the mechanics on Battle High: San Bruno seemed easy to pick up and difficult to master, a sign of a good competitive game. Once I had learned which attacks worked well in different situations, as well as a couple of special moves for each character, I found fighting extremely satisfying. While I would probably fail horribly against an expert, it was very rewarding to win bouts without it seeming too easy.
Controls are quick and responsive, ideal for a game of this nature. While the Xbox 360’s notoriously shaky d-pad continues to be terrible, Battle High: San Bruno works surprisingly well with the analog stick. I had no problems with directional combos, and as a result activating specials was simple and satisfying. While losing matches is frustrating, it never feels like the game’s fault.
Regrettably I was not able to try out the local multiplayer, which is a shame. Between two fighters who know what they are doing, I imagine games could potentially be spectacular. The mechanics of fighting games are what makes for interesting matchups, and Battle High: San Bruno‘s are strong enough to make matches more that just button mashing, but a true battle of wits.
My biggest complaints with the game are not faults of the game itself necessarily, but more a checklist of what could be added in future productions. Online play would be a great boost, as well as more characters and moves. Keep in mind that this is an indie production though, and for one dollar it is hard to bash the game for features it doesn’t have. Hopefully a sequel can advance things further, perhaps adding a real competitor to the fighting game ring.
Battle High: San Bruno will never attract the huge crowds given its indie status, but it is slick and polished, and definitely worth your time. With a few minor improvements it could even make the jump from XBLIG to XBLA – check it out and give it the recognition it deserves.