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Review: Smashing the Battle

Whaddaya think: Smash or Pass?


With the advent of technology, many tasks once undertaken by the most patient and virtuous of men have become much more trivial than they originally were. Anything from buying groceries, to entire jobs, even up to finding a future spouse has become exponentially easier than it’s ever been. Tasks that once forced man to call upon the almighty virtue of patience just to eke out a living, much less be recognized as a proper member of society, have been greatly reduced both in scope and what they ask for. For those who have been conditioned into expecting life to hand them a solution without working for it, please avert your eyes; today’s game is going to be a doozy.

“Present by Studio HG?” How thoughtful of them!


Smashing the Battle is a curious game with a weird release history. The beat ’em up seemed to have started as a mobile game exclusively released in Korea late last year, after which it would be announced for a PlayStation 4 release only to languish in the Eastern market afterward. Earlier this year, the game found its way onto Steam Greenlight, where it was successfully approved for a March release by the community. Indeed, the game did release that same month; as a launch title for the Oculus Rift, of all things. It wouldn’t be made available on Steam until around May 16th, close to two months after its original release date.

Considering how this game seems to have jumped from platform to platform courtesy of a one-man development team, it’s not surprising that this is the first thing you see upon starting the game.

Don’t worry, I’m confident this doesn’t portend a terrible, terrible tragedy. {.align-center}

Limited graphic options aside, Smashing the Battle is a top-down beat ’em up that touts itself as being arcadey in nature. Despite this claim, the game actually has a surprising amount of story and exposition, though it all boils down to either flavor text or very loose justification. In the year 2085, a completely innocuous construction site is in the midst of daily construction activities with its human workers and construction robots, when something goes terribly wrong. The “buildbots” begin to run amok, rampaging against any employees in their sights. One such employee, Sarah O’Connell, is working diligently when the attack reaches her vicinity.

When all seems lost, she and a coworker are aided by a mysterious woman communicating through them from the comms, who disables the buildbots with an EMP blast. After a round of discussion, it’s revealed that help won’t be arriving at the facility for another 24 hours, leaving all employees to fend for themselves. Lorien offers Sarah a way out, giving her access to a conveniently-placed hazard suit and a clear objective: race to the 65th floor. Sarah reluctantly leaves her wounded coworker aside and begins her long journey of gruesome battling, interpersonal revelations, and mild fanservice.

Smashing the Battle‘s story is akin to whipped cream: it’s not really necessary, but it adds to the experience just that little bit more. Then again, the story in Smashing the Battle (despite being fairly predictable and straightforward) is more layered than I was expecting, revolving around revenge, deceit, and far too many skeletons tucked in a few closets, to the point that I’d argue it was the only thing keeping me remotely vested in the game as I neared its end. Make no mistake: when I’m saying that the plot had me most interested in the game, there’s something tragically wrong at play here.

It’s not even to do with the game’s nature as a beat’em up. I personally feel the beat ’em up genre is an interesting one, as it’s evolved in different ways throughout the years. Games like Dynasty Warriors (no, not the first one) or Bayonetta could be considered beat ’em ups in some regard, due to the chief focus centering around combating a large number of enemies throughout a series of levels. Both games embrace different philosophies when it comes to how their game is structured around the concept of “punch the shit out of this dude until he dies,” but said concept remains intact.

Smashing the Battle, for better or for worse, feels very much like a beat ’em up that’s stuck in the arcade years.

You thought I was joking when I said the plot was the best part?


The main course of Smashing the Battle is the story mode, which consists of 30 different stages for Sarah and Mary, though there’s also a lengthy challenge mode you could tackle with either character. Since Mary’s story picks up where Sarah’s leaves off, you don’t get a say in which of the duo you use first. While the two girls play somewhat differently from one another (don’t worry, I’ll get to that), the game’s overall structure is uniform across the two characters. At the start of every stage, there will be a bridge connecting to a large platform, where a horde of enemies will spawn. Once you’ve eliminated the enemies with your one (read: your ONLY, SOLITARY) attack button, the pathway to the next bridge opens, whereupon the cycle continues until you fight a boss at the third or fourth platform. Sometimes there’s an alternate path to a slightly different enemy wave. After the stage is complete, the game harshly judges your performance and rewards you accordingly. Repeat for about 59 stages straight.

Perhaps it has to do with its roots as a mobile game, but Smashing the Battle was something I enjoyed best in small, concentrated bursts rather than in long, continuous sessions. Stages never change in appearance or layout, leaving the basic formula of those three to four fights more or less untouched. Sure, there are occasional stages wherein said progression is eschewed for timed missions or marathon waves of enemies. While the gesture is appreciated, these missions don’t do the game any favors for bolstering its variety, especially since there’s nothing differentiating these types of missions from one another. Part of how “samey” every level feels has to do with how you, the player, interact with them.

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The backstory’s not bad either, but it could’ve benefited greatly from some more depth.


Regardless of the character chosen, a few basic elements remain the same: attacking is handled with one button, dodging is handled with another, a magnet that pulls in nearby enemies can be activated with another, as well as a function to repair your HP and suit’s armor, and lastly, the obligatory “fuck shit up” mode that your character can enter when things get dicey. That’s about as far as the shared abilities go, as Sarah and Mary cater to slightly different gameplay styles. Sarah carries not only an almighty wrench known as the spanner but also an awesome rack with her into battle. Her hazard suit gives her the ability to put down proximity mines, which explode whenever anything enters their field (including Sarah herself), and a powerful attack known as the giant spanner. Unfortunately, that’s all she gets. Dealing with waves of enemies as Sarah can somehow both be an aggravating and mind-numbingly monotonous endeavor, due to how the strongest parts of her kit rely heavily on grouping enemies together.

Mary Lucy, not being one to be outdone, brandishes a giant hammer in battle. Not only that but instead of a stationary mine, she has a “remote bot” that will automatically target and attack enemies on its own. It even doubles as a remote bomb that can be detonated to destroy anything in its ever-expanding blast radius. Instead of a giant “fuck shit up” attack like Sarah’s giant spanner, Mary can set down a shield that protects her from projectiles. It may seem like a worthless inclusion, but certain enemy waves will essentially be 60% bullets, retroactively turning that shield into a holy ark. After the mechanical monotony that was playing as Sarah, Mary’s 30 missions felt much more enjoyable to cruise through with her more offensive tools. Sure, the structure of the levels was largely the same, but using Mary effectively is far more cathartic than her counterpart.

I deeply relate to this exchange on a spiritual level.


Overall, combat in Smashing the Battle feels incredibly shallow, which is my main gripe with playing as Sarah specifically. She only really has three ways of dealing with enemies, and none of them feel enjoyable to engage in, whereas Mary Lucy is a walking, twin tailed sack of catharsis on a stick by comparison. An in-game upgrade system does exist to increase each character’s strength or abilities, but you can’t purchase any new weapons or abilities. From the minute you start up the game all the way to the ending, you’re going to be doing the exact same thing with almost no variation.

While coins obtained from fallen enemies can be used to upgrade each character, there’s also the presence of scrap, itself obtained from fallen enemies. A player who hoards thousands of scrap is rewarded with the option to buy specially-colored suits that possess different attributes, such as increased health or bolstered attack power. Saving up scrap will take a while since it seems to relate more to your performance against enemies rather than simply killing them. Perhaps more important are the elusive “keys” featured in Smashing the Battle.

Keys can be used to unlock secret documents providing more insight into the game’s story, fanart that was drawn for the game, or to rescue fellow employees laying unconscious through the game’s levels, though there’s arguably little reason for doing so. In my experience, they’ve only given money, scrap, and maybe a free key in exchange for the key used to rescue them to begin with, and keys aren’t exactly cheap: sure, keys can be bought with in-game money, but that’s less money you to spend on pricey upgrades. The only other way to snag keys is by scoring a perfect three stars on a stage. I mean, how hard could that possibly be, right?

“DUDE, WHAT IF YOU JUST, LIKE, TOOK UNAVOIDABLE DAMAGE EVERY FIVE SECONDS FOR HALF THE STAGE”


Getting a perfect three stars doesn’t actually involve being “good” at the game, per se. All you really need to do is learn how to perform “massive kills” and how to kill 20 consecutive enemies without taking a single hit. Sure, sure, I’m aware it sounds like I’m downplaying how difficult that truly is, but there’s a clear set of objectives to get three stars. It’s not like, say, Bayonetta, where the variables involved with the requirements for scoring a pure platinum medal are more complicated to pull off successfully. It’s also a lot easier to play that game normally and try to score a pure platinum medal, whereas in Smashing the Battle, scoring three stars can feel completely independent from playing the game normally. It’s not like you’d ever normally dodge 20 attacks over the course of a level, since the timing is specific as to when your dodges count towards that.

Which brings us to my absolute biggest issue with Smashing the Battle: the enemies. There’s a lot of enemies in the game, far more than what you’d expect for a title of this price. There’re different types of turret enemies, small bipedal robots that fling bombs everywhere, cannon fodder, godforsaken flying enemies that won’t fucking stop flying away, and so on. Different stages incorporate these enemies into their waves differently, though it quickly stops mattering when there are about 25 enemies on-screen at once all using attacks simultaneously. It can get very easy to become overwhelmed in Smashing the Battle, even stun locked if you’re unfortunate enough. Part of the issue stems from an absolute clusterfuck of attacks flying on the screen at once, obscuring other attacks or attack types.

For instance, purple turrets fire lasers, which are signified by a dotted line on the ground; however, there’s another type of turret that fires a fireball straight into the air at arc, which is signified by a different type of line. Doesn’t sound so bad yet, right? Let’s throw another in there and mention the third turret, which fires a set of three fireballs and is also signified by a different type of red line. Now, let’s say there’s five of each turret in a wave all firing at you simultaneously, while you’re dealing with other enemies flinging other flying hitboxes everywhere. You’re probably not going to be able to see what attack is about to be used when, turning the game into a huge clusterfuck of you dodging enemies, much like a man trying to dodge his insane ex-girlfriend’s butcher knife. Throw in some absolutely annoying screen-shaking every time an explosion goes off, and you have one absolutely miserable stew.

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Regrettably, I am not skilled enough to play and screencap the ensuing insanity simultaneously.


In fact, the presentation in Smashing the Battle is balls. Something is truly, truly wrong when I’m trying to fight a boss (they’re all just bigger versions of normal enemies, by the way; sorry to spoil your fun) and my eyes are incapable of registering anything on my monitor because someone in Korea decided to have a giggle and make the screen shake every time lightning struck the arena. The visuals are passable, and the repetitious rock soundtrack of six songs will inevitably dissolve your eardrums long before the game ends, but the game is a drag to look at after a while. Far too much does Smashing the Battle adore the colors red, yellow, and gray, since they’re scattered all over the place, which can sometimes make enemies hard to pick out when things get hectic. Not only is it boring to look at after a while, it’s borderline intrusive. Perhaps the most cardinal sin committed by this game is the translation, which has a few (arguably understandable) typos littered through the adventure.

Of course, that would be a bold-faced liewhen faced with the non-existent optimization. It’s not bad enough Smashing the Battle has basically no graphical customization options to speak of, but it also has frame drops. In what seems to be a recurring theme of the games I review giving me technical hell, Smashing the Battle frequently committed genocide on its framerate whenever I killed numerous enemies at once, skipping frames for seemingly no reason. Reducing the resolution to 720p in windowed mode solved the issue, though it still reared its head my way every so often just to remind me it existed. Figuring out how to configure the game’s controls just to fix the common camera issue was a whole other puzzle in itself, riddled with more trial and error than your average PC adventure game in the ’90s. Seeing how some of the recent games I’ve reviewed have had technical issues only I seem to run into, perhaps you shouldn’t factor all of that into the decision of whether you’d buy the game or not.

Normally, this is where I would mention the sexual elements in Smashing the Battle, but it’s sadly not enough to save the game from the monotonous slog. The ladies in Smashing the Battle are all supple and curvy, with Lorien and Sarah sporting some wonderfully plump assets, as well as some skin. Activating overdrive mode with Sarah and Mary will remove their hazard suits, leaving them with scant clothing. If polygonal girls showing skin isn’t your thing, however, the fanart gallery has some ecchi content tucked away within its recesses. I wouldn’t look down on you for spending your hard-earned keys there instead of the awkwardly-written secret reports, honestly. There’s some good stuff strewn around that gallery.

Now there’s something I’d be down with smashing.


After a few hours with Smashing the Battle, the only thing I wanted to smash was this game. There’s not enough room in one review to go over details like the enemy balance, how some enemies randomly teleport away from you with no rhyme or reason, or how some bosses have the absolute cheapest area-of-effect attack in existence, which they slowly begin spamming like nothing else. Sure, the story is a bit interesting and the fanart is nice, but everything else is a pendulum that swings from mediocre to painfully frustrating. The gameplay ranges anywhere from “depressingly boring” and “a new level of frustration born of the sixth dimension.” Playing as Mary Lucy almost redeems the first 30 missions as Sarah, but even then, the levels suffer from the same problems in balance and structure.

It has some style and loads of content to chew through for its $11.99 price point, but in terms of beat ’em ups, Smashing the Battle is an experience outdone even by games 25 years ago. While I’m admittedly guilty of stating the following too often, I’m quite earnest this time when I say there are still better  options out there for action games with attractive young women exposing their bodies.

Pros

  • Decent story
  • Fan art gallery
  • Mary Lucy, both in terms of character and playstyle

Cons

  • Repetitious, sometimes frustrating gameplay with nonexistent balance
  • Unpolished, mediocre presentation
  • Technical issues
  • Gameplay
  • Story
  • Sound
  • Art and Graphics
  • Replay Value

LewdFactor

Smashing the Battle is pretty light on lewd content, barring the fan art gallery and some self-aware nods. The most you'll be seeing of the ladies is whenever Sarah or Mary cast aside their hazard suits in overdrive mode, or even the fanart gallery.

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