At San Bruno High School, a vicious gang known as "The Rivals" reigns supreme, terrorizing and oppressing their peers undetected and unpunished. Choose from 8 students as they battle for justice or greed in this fast-paced 2D fighter.
I have no idea why the game is called Battle High: San Bruno in the Games Marketplace but boots up as Battle High: Elemental Revolt. Whatever the reason, Battle High is one of the best broken fighting games I've played. With pixel artwork stuck in the 80's but a style clearly influenced by latter day SNK, there's so much to love about Battle High: Whatever the Hell that it becomes quite easy to overlook its faults. The game is a ton of fun in Imperial, a one-on-one 2-D fighter which may not stand up to strict criticism but is no less a delight to play.
Battle High: San Bruno by developer PointFiveProjects brings back memories of Asuka 120% LIMITED Burning Fest., an excellent Sega Saturn fighter which had players choosing from a multitude of high school characters to battle it out in the classroom, gym, and so forth. Asuka Honda should be legal by now, and she'd be unable to resist Terry Bogard, easily giving birth to something like Battle High. Token girl Mai (no, not Shiranui) could pass for Athena's orange haired sister while token black guy Heavyweight looks and fights a good bit like Terry with a bit of Dudley thrown in for good measure. Heavyweight's Blazing Dash into Blazing Punch is a crippled Dashing Straight without an uppercut option while his Exploding Punch packs all the fury of Terry's Burn Knuckle, circa '91 or so. Each character has a handful of special moves and a super which calls forth their elemental power, and though the game is of questionable balance, the variety of moves across the eight person roster leaves a good bit of room for experimentation and gamplay.
It's unfortunate, then, how the gameplay can't quite live up to its influences. Battle High: San Bruno has an excellent option menu which includes allowing players to check out the hit-boxes of the game sprites. If general fights in the game's arcade or versus modes didn't tip players off, then the ability to see how terribly laid out the boxes are will certainly show players where PointFiveProjects dropped the soap. Each character is bounded by a huge, all encompassing box. Attack moves often blot the screen with huge rectangles, taking down anyone in the nearby vicinity. Jiro's jumping hard kick produces a skyscraper of pain, large enough to where the corners are bound to strike an opponent despite the character graphics showing the move whiffing. No one must ever graduate from Battle High since the easy strike zones and quick juggles make it an infinite school for pretty much every character. No complex cross-ups with multiple inputs are needed; generally all it takes is a couple of strikes before the infinite is revealed, not that it's necessary against the soft AI.
Of course, fighters are to be judged against human opponents, and despite the plethora of cheap, easy hits to be found in Battle High, local multi-player will be fun for most. I really like the variety of characters and moves, and while the game struggle to maintain any sense of balance, I also think that the characters generally offer enough options to remain playable for casual fighting fans. The high school setting is very appealing; I can't help but be amused by Arvid, the portly Swede who fights with a cape, throws out Magic: The Gathering cards as projectiles, and dreams of being a super hero. I loved how Arvid's mid-boss was none other than Mai, as his continued insistence on letting him be her white knight aggravates her enough to retaliate. Bryan, a Jason Voorhees clone, caps his adventure, finally giving Arvid a chance to play a real hero. Each character has his or her own background story and dialogue which are more fleshed out than I would have expected, showcasing all kinds of personalities and plot lines which make the text worth following.
I also like how varied Battle High's characters and graphics are, such as watching serial killer wannabe Bryan toss out virtual sinks, toilets, and other household objects in his best Hsien-Ko imitation. The two brothers at the center of the game, Shinji and Jiro, are a refreshing twist from the Ryu and Ken clones with which the genre seems flooded, the two probably owing more of their origin to Yun and Yang, similar in appearance but with distinct differences in fighting styles. Everything animates as well as one would expect from a budget fighter, and the sprites look vibrant and sharp, on par with the genre's first true versus releases. I would liked to have seen more locales, as Asuka 120%, a franchise old enough to drive now, was able to find more places to battle than the school entrance, hallway, and classroom offered here. Time and lighting changes help add more flavor to the scenes, but I still want more, and the flat composition should definitely support more venues with minimal investment.
Perhaps we'll see more of San Bruno in a sequel. PointFiveProjects needs to release a patch or sequel, because the base presented here in Battle High is just too good to let go. Some effort restructuring the hit-boxes and tweaking the special moves could go a long way in making Battle High more than just an indie accomplishment. Excellent character designs, a fun combo system, and the joy of juggling make Battle High a game to buy and enjoy now, regardless of whether or not the series ever fixes its few issues which hold it from reaching its potential.