Let’s get something out of the way immediately: I’m not good at 2D fighting games and usually avoid them for that reason, preferring to stick with their more roomy 3D counterparts. It’s one of those genres that I’ve always looked upon longingly, though, wishing that it was something I could break into. Really, the only reason I looked into Battle High 2 A+ in the first place is that a poorly spelled user review on its Xbox store page accused it of being “to [sic] easy,” and while that was clearly meant to highlight a perceived shortcoming, it instead signaled that this might be a great starting point for someone like me with no talent for the genre. Having now played through arcade mode with most characters, I can definitely state that this is the case, as going through this game with certain characters allows for moments of triumph that other 2D fighters bury beneath their newbie-unfriendly difficulty curves. The downside, however, is that this game also happens to be indie-raw, sporting a small handful of baffling decisions that conspire to undermine the end experience. There are enough positives here that it feels like a few fresh eyes could come in and polish this into an amazing 2D fighting game for beginners, but it’s not there yet.
The writing suffers from being one-note
The story and interactions between characters seem like a good place to start highlighting the game’s roughness. There’s a journal section that has character bios and some back story, and it’s full of missing spaces, missing words, and awkward phrasing. Then there are the one or two pre-fight conversations that play out in arcade mode. Each character has a tendency to get flustered and begin stuttering in an identical way, and there’s nothing else here distinguishing anyone’s tone, so everyone kind of comes across the same, leading to conversations where both sides were obviously written by a single person. This is the kind of thing that an additional layer of polish could help fix up. Another thing that could stand to be fixed up is the way the typewriter-style text doesn’t jump to the next line until it runs out of room, leading to moments where a word will start on one line and suddenly teleport down.
But there are pluses to the writing
Credit where it’s due, the way characters react after beating each other are often specific to who’s beating who. The superhero wannabe Arvid will lament that he shouldn’t be beating up the handicapped when he defeats the blind Jada, for example, and while there are also some generic post-fight responses (Michelle in particular often sticks with “I, I need help!”), there are enough specific references to characters’ histories that it’s obvious how much work went into all of this.
A lot of the time, merely mashing buttons is enough to get through arcade mode. The difficulty doesn’t affect the challenge enemies pose as much as you’d expect (1 and the default of 4 feel identical, while the max 8 is harder, but nowhere near twice as hard as the default), so suffocating enemies under a flurry of attacks is often enough to earn you a victory. Certain characters are perfect for this, with Beat and Michelle in particular both being perfect for a beginner. You can even enter the training mode and turn on visual hitboxes while you learn their moves, making stringing together blows even easier once you finally graduate to arcade mode.
Things get quite a bit more interesting once you start to learn your preferred character’s moves, however. There’s a hidden final fight against the principal, but it appears that it’s only triggered when you score enough points. Since combos and the amount of time left in each fight contribute heavily to this score, you’re encouraged to play offensively, all but abandoning defense. This can turn matches into an instinctual, fast-paced affair, full of jump-kicking and special attacks.
As you land blows and your opponent lands blows on you, both of your special meters are filled. I’m sure this is called an “elemental meter” or something, but there’s not a whole lot of direction in this game, and you kind of have to figure things out for yourself. This meter is used up by dashing around (double tapping toward or away from your enemy), countering (I never figured out how to consistently do this outside of when I was lying on the ground, which was pointless since they’d often counter right back while standing), and using special attacks that are activated by a specific sequence of inputs once the meter is filled up and flashing. Each character has their own special attack, and they all work kind of differently. Michelle, for instance, transforms into a second form while doing a combo attack and getting a huge speed boost until she’s knocked down, at which point she reverts to her normal form. Arvid, on the other hand, does a yelling attack that has a decent range. Another character has a long-range psychic attack. Most of these are merely combo attacks, but they’re just different enough visually and mechanically to feel unique.
Of course, special attacks can be blocked by holding away from your opponent, or even canceled with a single strike. It’s all about timing, and this is yet another reason why fast, combo-friendly characters like Beat and Michelle are simply better than everyone else. I imagine that this could be a point of contention for some, as it’s always frustrating to set up a special move, only to get hit with a single weak punch and have a ton of your special meter used up to ultimately do nothing. This works both ways, though, and it’s something you eventually get used to.
There are some fights that can be really annoying, though. Klein in particular is a nightmare with slower characters because of his tendency to counter your attacks (especially special attacks) with a damaging flurry of punches, which quickly starts to feel like a cheap shot. Not every character is as vulnerable to cheap tricks as he is, but it’s still worth pointing out how remarkably easy it is to slide-kick enemies into submission. Some might see this as a negative, but I was nevertheless glad to have a way of beating Klein with some of the more useless characters.
And now, let’s talk about challenge mode
Challenge mode is a place to test out various character combos, which is a great idea. Or at least it would be if it worked properly, but it simply doesn’t. The game doesn’t register certain attacks consistently, leading to moments where you need to decide in a split-second (because of the frustratingly small window you have between attacks for it to count as a combo) whether to continue with the next attack or start over because it didn’t accept your punch as a punch for some arbitrary reason. There are even some attacks where what it tells you to do and what you actually have to do are different, most notably in the case of “crouching” attacks that don’t tell you press down. That would normally be a non-issue mitigated by a bit of common sense and trial and error, but it’s pretty much impossible to tell if you’re doing it correctly since even the correct inputs don’t always register. Basically, an entire game mode is rendered useless by the finicky move detection. Not okay.
A bit mixed on the art and sound front
There’s a whole lot to cover here. For example, the game includes both 3D and 2D backgrounds. The 3D ones are kind of awkward-looking and don’t mesh with the character sprites, but the 2D ones are only marginally better. In either case, it quickly becomes distracting when you realize that not only are the background characters nowhere near the quality of the playable characters (who are all displayed and animated well enough that I have no complaints about them whatsoever), but they also have only two frames of animation. Then there’s the various portrait/UI art, which isn’t pixelated like the rest of the game. This really bothered me at first, and while I eventually got used to it, the disconnect between the two styles keeps it from looking as professional as it could. I’m also not enthused about how the super meter flashes when full. It’s not as distracting as the flashing in some games, but it could still stand to be dialed back a bit. Finally, the sound and music. I always put an emphasis on memorability above all else, and the game is a success in that regard because of how many tracks I can still recall. That having been said, they’re all mixed to be a bit tinny, which makes listening to them fatiguing over longer periods of time. The sound effects suffer from a completely different problem, with many being panned hard left and right based on where characters are standing. This happens on the menu, as well, and it’s honestly painful. It didn’t take long before I had to play with my headphones off, and that’s never a good sign.
*A Steam review key for Battle High 2 A+ was provided for the purpose of this review