Fighting through Battle High: San Bruno

Review of Battle High: San Bruno on XBLIG: Buy
This Street Fighter-style brawler is fun for casual players, but pros may not find it enough of a challenge.

As a kid, I played a lot of Street Fighter II on SNES, and that may be why I find Battle High: San Bruno so appealing. Upon first playing it, I was taken back to a time of simpler fighting games—retro graphics, slower pacing, and tight character movement. For someone like me who hasn’t spent much time on fighting games since then, it was a welcome diversion.

Like most fighting games, Battle High is relatively light on story, but it does have an underlying mythos. San Bruno is a school set up for young Elementals—people who have supernatural powers and abilities—but the inmates are running the asylum. Some of the elementals have gathered together to terrorize the other students—and the 8 characters fit into one side or another. Through backstory text (much like you’d find in a fighting game’s instruction manual), cutscene dialogue, and ending cinematics, the story of these characters and their rivalries are fleshed out a bit.

The basic fighting mechanics are well-designed and the controls are responsive. Each character wields an element—earth, fire, water, or energy. Differences between characters’ play styles are mainly defined by their special moves, as well as a super special move that can be used once the super meter is filled. The characters seem to be fairly original, too (although my experience is limited). 

Special moves feel geared to intermediate-to-advanced players. They seem to favor short-to-medium range combat, with the occasional projectile thrown in for good measure. Most use the basic charge, quarter-circle, and half-circle patterns. However, every character seems to have a least one or two moves that use the “shoryuken” pattern, which I’ve always found a little tricky (and the XBox thumbstick and D-pad don’t help). Super special moves are even more complicated, as they usually require a couple of different directional rotations on the D-pad or thumbstick to execute. Often, though, they aren’t worth it—most special attacks aren’t difficult to dodge or counter.

However, game balance will likely disappoint those intermediate-to-advanced players who can actually master the moves. I cranked up Arcade mode to the highest difficulty (level 8), and still managed to beat the game with all 8 characters without using a single continue—and I’m no fighting game aficionado. The difficulty didn’t increase very noticeably from the default level of 3. Unlike many fighting games, there’s no impossibly hard boss fight after fighting the other characters to ramp up the difficulty either.

The biggest balance issue, however, is that close combat feels overpowered. This may not be a bad thing depending on your preferences, but the AI (even on the most difficult setting) doesn’t seem to get it. I found that I could spam the Jump Attack to force an opponent into a corner and whittle down their health bar between occasional blocks. Throws seem overpowered for some characters—for example, once I forced an opponent into the corner as Arvid, I could often chain together throws indefinitely until they were defeated. Even the combo system felt a little overpowered if used at close range—it wasn’t hard to use the dash ability to score a series of quick 4- or 5-hit combos while keeping an opponent locked up in a corner. This isn’t to say it’s broken, but the AI never seemed to effectively avoid or use these techniques.

Despite its balance problems,  Battle High is a fun fighting game. It’s not going to be the next Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, but it’s definitely a Buy. Casual gamers should find it accessible—you don’t necessarily need to know a lot of combos or special moves to have fun. Experienced fighting game players may not get much out of the single-player, but it might be a nice, short diversion between major game releases.

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