Version tested: Xbox 360
Why does it always take ages for the UK to get the latest 2D fighters? The Japanese have been enjoying Street Fighter IV in their arcades for nearly half a year, America got a console port of Arcana Heart with Europe once again overlooked, and as far as I'm aware there's only one BlazBlue arcade cabinet in the country at the Casino in London - not very helpful if you live in Cornwall. But after many months of waiting the UK is at least getting a console port of Battle Fantasia for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Like the sublime Street Fighter IV, Battle Fantasia opts for a 2.5D fighter styling - 2D fighter mechanics on a 2D plane with full 3D graphics - and comes across as a fantasy-themed anime set in a steampunk universe. Everything exudes Japanese manga quirkiness, with bouts between "jetski-chainsaw" wielding warriors and giant dwarves with steam-powered backpacks a common occurrence in amongst the rabbit wizards and cat-girl waitresses.
Although Battle Fantasia has light/heavy punches and kicks, doing away with mediums in the same way as King of Fighters, it plays more like Street Fighter than you'd expect from the developer of Guilty Gear. Indeed, without the added complication of Burst Gauges, Roman Cancelling and Instant Kills, Battle Fantasia is noticeably more accessible than Arc System Works' flagship fighter. If you played Street Fighter Alpha back in the day then you'll already be able to pick up and play Battle Fantasia to a competent level - Alpha 3 players won't even have to worry about picking an Ism.
Still, that's not to say Battle Fantasia lacks depth. If you've bought an arcade stick for every console since the first SNES port of Street Fighter II, Battle Fantasia's Gachi and Heat Up systems will be incentive enough to spend hours in the Practice Mode.
Each player has a three-tiered MP gauge, which fills as you do and take damage. As well as providing access to each character's does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin Super move, a stock of MP can also be used to enter Heat Up mode for a short time by tapping both punches or kicks, setting your character on fire Super Saiyan style. Whilst Heated, half the roster will have their normal and special moves supped up, significantly increasing their combo opportunities. The other half receives more specific benefits, including Marco summoning his pet dragon and Face loading his pistols with proper bullets - outside of Heat they have the stopping power of a Frisbee.
In a similar style to the classic Third Strike, Battle Fantasia fields a parrying system courtesy of its fifth Gachi button. If the player hits the Gachi button precisely in time with the enemy's high attack, or down and Gachi for a low attack, they will perform a Gachi Match - interrupting the enemy's offensive long enough for a swift counter. Alternatively, timing forward and Gachi or diagonally-forward and Gachi will execute either a high or low Gachi Drive. A low Gachi Drive sends your opponent hurtling towards the far wall, where they will spin-dizzied for a short time - the perfect opportunity to hit them with a guaranteed Super - while a high Gachi Drive launches them onto the arena wall, where they'll bounce back towards you. In this helpless state they'll be more susceptible to a lengthy juggle combo.