Game Review

by David Cabrera,

Kamen Rider Battride War II

Playstation 3

Kamen Rider Battride War II
Kamen (Masked) Riders from 2000 onwards-- including this year's hero Gaim-- gather to punch bad guys and crates in a game suspiciously similar to the Warriors/Musou series, but which is very careful not to actually use the word “Musou” or take place in ancient China. Ken Matsudaira co-stars as the eighth Tokugawa shogun.

Of all the Japanese characters that have been used to make a Dynasty Warriors/Musou game (or just a ripoff of one, as this game is), the long-lived Kamen Rider superhero series is among the most appropriate. You see, beating up hordes of identical henchmen before finishing off their boss with a fancy move is exactly what the character actually does, every week on Sunday mornings. Who more appropriate for this genre?

And so it exists, but not under KOEI/Omega Force's Musou line. Bandai had Eighting-- their name is only known for their 90s shooters, but by now they're veterans of licensed action games-- make it for them. Eighting has made some fine games: they co-developed Marvel Vs. CAPCOM 3, the Gamecube Naruto games, Fate/unlimited codes. So this sounds pretty good, and it even feels pretty good for the first hour or so. After that, cracks start showing.

The formula is modest, with level designs less ambitious than even the average Musou title. Just get in there and beat everybody up, and the level will eventually end. This is a Japanese-language game, but the in-game instructions only explain the obvious. Not an ounce of language understanding is required.

The graphics are certainly subpar in screenshots, but the key point to remember for this type of game is that hundreds of models are moving around on screen at once. It is probably because of the low detail that the game can consistently move at such a high framerate. Only in the large maps, where the game works up to 300 or so enemies onscreen, are there any hiccups.

Fortunately, there is great character variety and quite a number of ways to beat the crowd up. You can absolutely just press the square button until you win, but you'll be missing the game's strong point, which is how fleshed-out the individual characters are.

Many Kamen Riders, especially the post-2000 characters featured in this game, have toy-like designs made to sell their many associated collectibles. There are transformations, collectible power-ups, super modes, super-duper modes. It makes a lot of sense to turn these guys into videogame characters. Eighting's execution on this was their one good move.

The Kamen Riders look, act and fight like they do in their respective TV series: Wizard twirls with gunkata, kicks, and magic. Fourze has his high-school delinquent fighting style with shin kicks and headbutts. Nearly every gimmick, transformation, and collectible toy or card is accounted for, which adds up to quite a lot for characters with many forms like Kuuga and Decade. While you're always beating up a crowd, it'll take a long time for you to get through all the weapons and attacks that you can do so with. It's actually quite fun running down this game's long list of characters and using their every trick.

Unfortunately, not many characters have been added from the previous game. This year's Gaim-- and his second rider, Baron-- are both on hand, but Ryugen (hated as he is) is only an assist. Fan favorite antihero Zangetsu Shin, and of course Gaim's strongest transformation, are paid DLC. The line in the summary about famous Japanese actor Ken Matsudaira is not a joke, but he has to be unlocked. This is pretty uncool in a game that barely even has new characters to begin with, and which is already asking players to pay $30 extra to have the right background music.

There is also a surprisingly robust range of advanced controls in the game: assists and cancels bring to mind Eighting's fighting games. Because the enemies pose no threat themselves (the lazy difficulty settings adjust only how much health they have and how much damage they do), the main challenge of the game comes from stringing together hundreds of hits in long combos that a skilled player can easily stretch for thousands of hits at a time.

So we have a solid core: the problem is just about everything surrounding it. The game's overlong and punishingly repetitive campaign mode features a surprisingly meta story, in which the Riders are trapped in a magic movie theater and must act out their own movies for the entertainment of some friendly ghost children. The villain (named Cinema, of course), just wants kids to come to his movie theater! That's about as interesting as the story mode gets, though. Despite the massive range of Kamen Rider movies to draw from, the movie stages are mostly just quick excerpts of a single scene from each film, squeezed into a Dynasty Warriors level, doing the originals no justice.

Level design is, as stated before, terrible throughout. Most of the stages aren't based on a Kamen Rider movie, they're just filler. Already-bland maps are reused shamelessly, leading inevitably to me making jokes at my TV screen about how the Riders always seem to end up at Toei Studios Gravel Pit A or Warehouse B when they've got to fight the bad guys.

As the game progresses, the story scenes start to disappear and the stages get worse and worse. Eventually, any semblance of variety is dropped and every stage begins to follow the same pattern. When the villain says he'll make movies so exciting that kids have never seen anything like them before, he means he's going to make you play levels where you fight your evil twin, perhaps with an evil sidekick, over and over again. Children deserve more credit.

Bikes can be summoned at any time, like the horses in Dynasty Warriors (a couple of the Riders actually have horses too). Horse and bike feel the same and control equally poorly: aside from the occassional large map and the obligatory “ride a bike off a ramp into a helicopter” setpieces, they're used mostly to skip through long stretches of the stages when the tedium gets to be too much.

Eventually a kind of “Surivival Mode” opens up. This isn't the Survival mode you might think of from a fighting game or Warriors/Musou, where you're thrown into a pit to fight enemy after enemy. Rather, it is a mode where you play the same levels from story mode in a row, on the same life. Owing to the game's general lack of difficulty, this is more a test of endurance for tedium than one of player skill. Equippable items which enhance character stats and confer special powers are only available via this mode. If you aren't satisfied with the crushing repetition of the campaign mode, in other words, you can spend twenty more hours here filling out a collection and making some numbers go up. No, thanks.

There is also the requisite leveling up. As mentioned before, the difficulty levels vary not by the aggressiveness or intelligence of the opponent-- mooks stand and wait to be hit whether you're playing on Easy or Hard-- but rather their statistics. This means that enemies simply take longer to kill, and their attacks simply do more damage to your HP.

The game's biggest trick is to pull out two bosses at once, because neither the game engine nor the camera nor the player has any idea what to do when two powerful enemies are onscreen at the same time. Typically you have to wait them out, or just brute force the stage by having a higher level. If you are overleveled, you can walk right into the boss' strongest attack and you won't even see your life bar move. If you are underleveled, and there are two bosses on the screen, the first will simply break your guard and the other will kill you.

As such, the only time the game is actually difficult is when the player character is under-leveled. Because all the Riders start at low levels and have to be leveled one by one, the game actually winds up discouraging you from trying out all the Riders... and of course, trying out all the Riders is the fun part of the game. A new Rider is a new experience grind, after all.

As is an ongoing and unfortunate trend in Bandai/Namco character games, this game has been released in two editions: the standard edition and the “premium sound” edition, which costs about $30 more. The premium edition features all the original theme songs from the TV shows as performed by the original artists, and the regular edition, which we received, has... nothing. You get dull, generic filler music for the entire game.

The theme music is valuable punctuation in Kamen Rider: it's the moment when everything turns around, when the character explodes and blows everybody away. You can do that in this game, but the cue that was clearly intended to be there won't mean anything unless you pay up.

It's understood that there are rights issues and fees to be paid when using the original artists: Super Robot Wars has always used instrumentals for this reason. Excising the theme music in any form, on the other hand, is clearly just a cynical move to punish the fan who doesn't pay the extra $30. One could, of course, argue that being made to pay $100 for this game is a punishment of its own.

There's a general lack of polish throughout, of which you'll certainly see a few examples: enemies getting stuck behind invisible walls, a mission refusing to end as Rider and sidekick repeat the same lines at each other (“Great job!” “I'll protect everyone's smiles!” “Great job!” “I'll protect everyone's smiles!”), and of course the way the assist Rider will always charge in a straight line, often directly past the target you intended him to attack. At one point I caused the player character to freeze in place forever by merely pausing at the wrong time.

And that's not all! There are even crash bugs: pick Fourze in Rocket States and behold as the game crashes and informs you that your save data's been corrupted! It hasn't been, your save game is safe, but this is absurd. It's embarassing that the game shipped in a state where simply choosing the wrong character crashes it. This is clearly a case where Eighting's bosses told them to just ship the damn game already. The first Battride War game came out just over a year ago.

It's an unfortunate trend with anime-character games-- even those with the best of intentions, like Jojo All-Star Battle-- that the property and characters are perfect, and everything else is adequate at best. So it is with this game. The fun characters are stifled by the awful campaign and slow level grind, and it's so unpolished that any publisher but Bandai would be embarrassed. There is probably a good videogame waiting to burst forth out of Kamen Rider Battride War II. I think its title will be Kamen Rider Battride War IV Special.

Review copy provided by

Overall : C-
Graphics : C+
Sound/Music : D
Gameplay : C+
Presentation : D

+ Kamen Riders translate well to a beat-em-up and playable characters do them justice
Lazy level, enemy, and difficulty design, general lack of polish

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