Has BattleCON Been Exceeded?
At first glance, Level 99’s forthcoming fighting game, Exceed, looks suspiciously similar to their flagship fighting game, BattleCON. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
Two fighters facing each other in a two-dimensional arena? Squaring off with cards that track their range, attack power, and speed? Featuring simultaneous attacks where the faster character might stun the slower, rendering them unable to hit back? If it looks like BattleCON, fights like BattleCON, and quacks like BattleCON, then it probably is BattleCON. Logic rarely lies.
There’s some degree of affront to the brashness of it. After all these years, I’ve finally figured out how to pronounce the names of some of Indines’ more sesquipedalian characters. Oriana Xenia Vellopholetta, Runika Zenanen, and Gerard Mantranga, I’ll never forget all those times we referred to you as “cyclops girl,” “laser shades,” and “patchy.” More importantly, with all the fighters, modes, tag-teams, and boss fights crammed into each of the BattleCON games, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of Devastation, let alone War. I haven’t even gotten around to opening Fate of Indines.
In a way though, that’s the great contradiction of BattleCON. Despite being so easy to learn and just about perfect for quick matches over a lunch break, its dozens of fighters and brain-straining gameplay had a way of intimidating even the hardcore. Removing the lid and gazing at row after row of characters felt like staring breathlessly across the ocean, wondering what discoveries were hidden just over the horizon. Other times, the bug-eyed expression of the new player I was teaching reminded me that we had to build the boat first.
Enter Exceed, or EXCEED, though I swear a sun-oath and a moon-oath to never super-capitalize it like that again. A man’s got to have some dignity, after all.
Yes, at a glance Exceed looks a lot like BattleCON, and it’s true enough that they work from a similar starting point. But once you get past their similar appearance, they’re as different as two fighting games could be. Like twins, if twins weren’t creepy and unnatural.
For one thing, Exceed is far more freewheeling. You’ve got a deck of cards — another significant departure from BattleCON — and while it’s possible to “Strike,” triggering a clash where you and your opponent must simultaneously play a move to deal damage and trigger special effects, most of the time players are alternating relatively normal actions, zipping around the board, drawing cards, and setting up boosts. Preparing for killer moves, basically. For anyone who ever struggled with getting into range in BattleCON, Exceed is the remedy. It’s easy enough to evade an impending point-blank attack when you can just discard a couple cards to move two spaces away from your opponent.
Which isn’t to say Exceed is easy. Sure, it can at times feel a bit looser than its older brother, especially because it introduces a hearty helping of luck. On the one hand, this introduces some incredible hand and resource management. Each card can be used as a strike, a boost, a holdout in hopes of digging its duplicate out of the deck to create a plus-sized EX attack, or discarded to move around the board. On the other, this new element of luck will still probably be its most divisive inclusion.
Here’s an example. Most of your moves will be of the garden variety, playing a card and taking exactly the move it tells you to. But if your buddy declares a Strike and none of the cards in your hand are able to hit his fighter, it’s possible to make a “wild swing,” drawing a random card off the top of your deck to act as your move. When you pull off a cool move basically by accident, the result is a dizzy euphoria. In one recent match against Somerset, I drew a Dual Blade Rapture as my wild swing. Not only was this faster than my wife’s attack, I was also somehow in range. My move dealt a fairly regular five damage, but also two more if Somerset had more cards in her hand, and two beyond that if we were positioned at maximum range. Both requirements were met; and thus I dealt nine damage (out of a starting 30) and stunned her counterattack. Booyah.
The flipside, of course, is that it bites like a million genetically engineered mosquitoes when you’ve gone out of your way to set up an elaborate move only for a wild swing to undo your best-laid plans. Like when Somerset, later in the very same match, countered my Cross Blades. This was what’s called an ultra attack, a supercharged move that can’t be played unless you spend a heap of a resource called “gauge.” Since you only gain gauge when you land a hit, it’s the game’s most precious commodity other than life — and often moreso. In this instance, Cross Blades required four gauge, representing precisely half the hits I would land over the course of the entire match. It required me to be within a very specific range, hit with the speed of a constipated tortoise, and offered about as much defense against being stunned as a damp oak leaf trying to block a freight train. Still, I was prepared. Crucially, I’d set up my attack with boosts to my speed, sacrificing multiple turns and a pair of cards. I was in range, boosted to the gills, and ready to deal Cross Blades’ whopping 13 damage.
And then Somerset somehow drew the one card that would ruin everything — merely by moving her out of range.
It might sound like I’m complaining. Quite the contrary. While Exceed’s element of luck will certainly bother some, in both of the above examples the room was white-hot electric with tension as we revealed our cards. Every regular turn was an opportunity for Somerset to undermine me. Every strike was a chance for her to kick back. Every time she declared that she was drawing cards made me cringe. Even with her resources depleted, there was always a chance that she might pull off that last-ditch roundhouse that would reverse the momentum of the match.
She won, by the way, when both of our fighters were down to a sliver of health.
It’s no secret that BattleCON is one of my favorite games of all time. I was wary when I first heard about Exceed. It wasn’t as though I was looking for yet another fighting game.
And yet, with its nail-biting card play, excellent hand management, and multiple uses for each card, I can’t help but be stoked to see what Level 99 does with this one. I’ve only seen two of the fighters so far, and I’ve already had a great time pounding the hell out of my opponent, shouting cuss words when they make a lucky wild swing, and bragging about my best moves.
Exceed: bring it.
For the next month or so, Exceed will be funding on Kickstarter. You can find it over here.