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Review: Guilt Battle Arena (Nintendo Switch)By Renan At 11.03.2018 00:36

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It's hard to pinpoint where exactly Guilt Battle Arena goes wrong because, theoretically, it has everything it needs to work. Unlockables, an arcade-like structure, and a chaotic multiplayer all lend themselves to an, at the very least, entertaining party title. The issues start to become apparent in the main mode: co-op. Each stage boils down to wiping out waves of enemies as the speed increases. With only one bullet carried at a time, the goal is to make the most out of each shot. It's an interesting idea, but it's held back by every other mechanic at play.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with on-rails movement, there's no justification in keeping characters constantly moving. In fact, keeping the game on-rails actually takes away from the potential strategy at play. Since characters are always on the move, the best course of action is to simply shuffle back and forth in the middle to keep a precise position. This adds nothing but busy work to the experience. Were the mechanic not here, players could actually position themselves appropriately for certain situations, and the design could follow suit with a tighter focus on enemy placement.

Another big issue, one that clashes with both shooting and moving, is stage size. Each level is incredibly tight. On paper, this simply means more care needs to be given to each individual action. Since levels are so small, a mistake can easily lead to death. In practice, it's an artificial way of beefing up the difficulty. There is no logical design reason for making each stage so small, especially since movement is on-rails. It simply means forcing the player to constantly change their trajectory of movement. In co-op, it's obnoxious. In versus, it's downright disastrous. High level play is basically impossible since shots connect with other players so easily. Bigger stages, and verticality, would have averted this issue completely.

Verticality is another problem. As the entire game takes place on a 2D plane, it's natural to spend most of that time on even footing. It's possible to jump, and necessary to kill some enemies, but there's effectively no need to move upwards. As it so happens, it's not even necessary to kill enemies in the air most of the time since many of them lack a method of dealing damage down below from up above.

Even worse, however, is the life system. Both players have three hearts in co-op. Not three altogether, but three hearts per character. This isn't something that should be stressed, but it needs to be as Guilt Battle Arena hands out game overs as soon as one person loses all their lives. Player 1 could get through an entire stage untouched, but a game over will still occur if player 2 gets hit three times. Like the on-rails movement and the cramped stages, this is a design element that does not exist for beneficial purposes. It doesn't make the game any better, nor does it promote strategy. All it does is add another layer of frustration.

Speaking of frustrating, the goal of each stage is to survive enough waves to rack up three stars. Stars unlock the final level, but they are also used to unlock new costumes. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way of checking what triggers a star. Presumably, it refers to how many enemies are killed in a stage, but there's nothing that lists how many enemies in a stage add up to one star. It's also worth noting that enemy kills aren't universal. 20 kills may unlock the first star in the first stage, but won't unlock any in the fifth.

Versus is its own beast entirely, offering multiple modes that really aren't different enough from each other to justify including. It's nice that some effort was put into playing around with the core mechanics, but they would have been much better off in co-op. As is, versus has several iterations of the core gameplay, while each stage of co-op is effectively a palette swap with a gimmick obstacle to avoid.

The problem with Guilt Battle Arena isn't that it would be better with updates, it's that it needs updates. This is a game that should not have been released in the state it was in, and certainly not for $10. It is a glorified demo that's made all the more frustrating because it genuinely could have been good. The one-bullet mechanic is so unique and inspired, but it doesn't mesh with a single design element past conceptually. Invincible Cat either needs to take Guilt Battle Arena off the eShop, or start working on a massive update to fix its many, many faults.

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Final Score
As shallow as it is boring, [i]Guilt Battle Arena[/i] is a conceptually fine attempt at a fast-paced party shooter that does very little with its mechanics and premise. Constantly being on-rails adds a layer of difficulty, but doesn't feel necessary to the core design of the game; the obstacles are charming enough, but the static layout of each stage keeps them relatively easy to avoid with some muscle memory; and the one-bullet mechanic, as interesting as it is, doesn't feel properly taken advantage of as its held back cramped layouts. Levels and matches are certainly fast-paced, but the core gameplay isn't addictive enough to warrant long play sessions. With some mechanical re-tweaking, varied stages, and an improved main mode that doesn't boil down to endless waves of shooting and dashing, [i]Guilt Battle Arena[/i] could turn into something worth playing. As is, however, there's nothing particularly impressive about it.



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