Growing up, my friends and I would swarm the local arcades to battle each other in games like X-Men: Children of the Atom, Samurai Shodown, and Mortal Kombat. If a fighting game released on the SNES or Genesis, we’d move the crowd over to someone’s house and continue the fight there as well. I grew up on 2D fighters and still have a passion for them today, but when it comes to indie games, it’s one genre you just don’t see much. There’s tons of platformers, adventure games, and roguelike dungeon crawlers, but rarely do we see the standard fighter being developed by smaller teams.
Mattrified Games has been working on the Battle High series for quite a while, with titles appearing on Xbox 360, Desura, and most recently OUYA. It focuses on a group of students with the ability to manifest elemental properties–dubbed Elementals–learning to harness their powers at San Bruno High. There’s love triangles and rivalries, menacing evil doers and deceptive magicians all attending the school for one reason or another, but some students have begun mysteriously losing their powers. Think X-Men meets Rival Schools, in a way. Plots aren’t usually a fighter’s strong point, but it’s definitely what makes Battle High Battle High.
“It’s a solid throwback to classic arcade fighters like Street Fighter II, World Heroes, Darkstalkers, and King of Fighters…“
Battle High 2 features a wide variety of unique characters, from a comic book-obsessed hall monitor who literally attacks opponents with trading cards, to Bryan, the Beast of Hall 22, who resembles a NES-era Jason Voorhees, and can manifest fire axes and chainsaws to devastate his foes. There’s 13 playable characters in all, with each harnessing a different elemental property and fighting style. Along with the narrative, its colorful cast of characters added to my enjoyment of the game with their off-the-wall illustrations (courtesy of artist Matteo Carlino), excellent sprites, and overall personality.
While the fighters and their history added a nice layer of depth, a fighting game is only as good as its gameplay. Thankfully Battle High 2 delivers, although its core is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s standard fighter fare, with two variations of punches and kicks, as well as dedicated buttons for overhead attacks and throws. Dealing or receiving damage fills up an EX meter, allowing the use of devastating special abilities; like Klein’s screen-clearing dragon attack, or even air dashes and ability cancels. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in other games, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It’s a solid throwback to classic arcade fighters like Street Fighter II, World Heroes, Darkstalkers, and King of Fighters, and while it features good sprite work and character design, it does suffer from balance issues while playing solo and against other players. Some characters, like the form-changing Michelle, seem severely overpowered with little to no downfalls. On top of a projectile, she has fast, long range attacks that only increase in effectiveness while she’s in her 2nd form; which only requires one-third of your EX meter.
On the opposite end, Shinji seems to be easily kept at bay and interrupted often during his EX attack. This could be due to him being a charge fighter with a move set that doesn’t offer much distance–something you don’t see often at all–or the fact that he has no projectiles to keep space between him and his opponent. He can teleport to advance or retreat, but I never really felt in control while having to charge up two very short-ranged attacks. Other technical issues include avoiding damage during frames of animation while spamming the throw button, and easily pinning opponents to the corners by simply mashing overhead attacks. The latter is only really viable against the CPU, but it still feels relatively cheap.
These are all things that can be addressed and patched in at the developer’s discretion. Rarely, if ever, does this genre produce a perfectly tuned game the first time around, and what’s currently available is really fun to play around with. Once you find your favorite fighter though, the game is relatively easy when playing against the CPU regardless of the difficulty setting. I found the hardest mode to be a tad mild in comparison to other similar games, so if you’re looking for a challenge, you may be slightly disappointed.
As of now, Battle High 2 doesn’t feature a way to battle your friends online. According to the developer, this is something we could see in the future, but don’t base your purchase around a possibility. There’s a good amount of offline content, like a story-based Arcade Mode, complete with mid-card rivalries and entertaining storyboard endings, and a standard versus mode for you and your friends to duke it out. The entire cast is pretty memorable, and I enjoyed watching the individual stories play out in Arcade Mode, but if you’re flying solo you may run out of things to do rather quick.
Training Mode helps to improve your play style, but what really took me by surprise was the game’s Challenge Mode. The entire roster has their own unique set of challenges and combos to perform, which gave a lot more insight in to their fighting style, as opposed to just checking the command list in the pause menu. It’s similar to what you might have seen in Street Fighter 4 or Killer Instinct’s Dojo, gradually offering more difficult challenges and incorporating mechanics like slow projectiles and air juggling.
If you need a bit more replay value in the solo department, Battle High 2 includes over 100 different achievements to unlock. There’s no reward for doing so really, and some of the achievements wouldn’t unlock for me at all, but it was something to focus on if there wasn’t anyone around to play with. Even if you don’t have friends at the ready, Battle High 2 is only $2.00 on OUYA and Desura, and half that on Xbox 360.
“It’s a great jumping on point for the series–and the only good 2D fighter on the OUYA–but it just needs a bit more polish in certain areas.”
I could tell that a lot of time and effort went in to making the 2D fighter, and my only complaint right now is that it needs a bit more polish. Some sound effects seem weak, but every character is professionally voiced to give it that Street Fighter flavor each time someone fires off a special move. There’s some nice touches though, like the sound of students applauding your victory, or the entire soundtrack as a whole. All 13 backdrops feature their own tracks and meld nicely with the sprite work, but I just wish the collision sounds were a lot stronger, putting some weight behind the attacks.
Overall, Battle High 2 is worth every bit of its price tag. Its lack of an online versus mode and overall balance issues may deter some, but Mattrified Games seems eager to continue balancing and improving the game. As it’s tweaked, I know I’ll only enjoy it more and more, and I can’t wait to see how it progresses over time. It has a memorable cast of interesting characters, solid sprite work, entertaining storylines, and a great challenge mode to ease you in to the series.
What exists right now is a solid foundation. It’s a great jumping on point for the series–and the only good 2D fighter on the OUYA–but it just needs a bit more polish in certain areas. It’s not as in-depth as Street Fighter IV, Guilty Gear, or BlazBlue, and comparing them would be unfair to a small indie team, but if you’re a fan of 90’s arcade fighters, you’ll feel right at home.
Recommended for fans of: 90’s arcade fighters like Street Fighter II, Darkstalkers, Eternal Champions, Clay Fighter, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, or World Heroes.
*This review is based on the newly released OUYA version of Battle High 2. It is also available on PC through Desura, and Xbox 360, but unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and an aficionado of bizarre indie games. If it’s weird and pixely, he’ll like it. If he’s not writing, he can usually be found glued to his OUYA and Xbox One, or knee-deep in an MMO. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.