Review: Pocket Bravery

There are many different gaming platforms that I always wish I had experienced in their prime, and on that list is the Neo Geo Pocket Color, SNK’s foray into the handheld gaming market. It had a lot of games for it that always looked interesting, but its lack of retail support in my area and its short shelf life meant I couldn’t get my hands on one in time. So when the opportunity to check out Pocket Bravery came up, I jumped at it, being an ode to classic ’90s fighters and the NGPC.

Pocket Bravery centers around a select group of individuals who can channel unique elemental energies known as Ichor, and who each have their own reasons for seeking each other out and fighting them. There’s a full-fledged Story mode that explains more about some of the characters, centered around main character Nuno out for revenge and eventually joining a group known as The Pack to investigate a criminal organization, but to be honest, I always consider the main character in most fighting games to be the least interesting character compared to the others (and this wasn’t much of an exception), so I personally just decided to center on the Arcade mode.

Besides, as Pocket Bravery is meant to be an ode to classic fighting games of the 1990s, it felt more accurate to just dive into a more classic “World Warrior” approach to things, where you select one of a dozen colorful characters with their own style and moves, representing their country. The graphics are a delight, with creative stage introductions, different times of day for each round on certain stages, a lot of detail in each background, flashy attacks, cool character portraits and more (though for a tribute to the Neo Geo Pocket Color, they almost feel a little too advanced). The game also delivers a steady stream of adrenaline-pumping music to play over these visuals as well, perfectly fitting the action.

Gameplay-wise, Pocket Bravery controls well, with smooth movement and a wide variety of attacks to use including Elemental moves that show off each character’s Ichor, Super Special attacks and massive Final Attacks that all be performed when certain conditions are reached. And like with any fighting game, these moves are also colorful and fun to try out, showcasing a lot of each character’s personality (Ximena being a highlight for this writer). Of course, it helps that, much like Street Fighter 6, the game has an optional “Simplified” control scheme, which is a terrific addition that more fighting games should adopt (though rather annoyingly, it doesn’t let you use this option in Story mode yet).

Unfortunately, though, the AI seems way too cheap at times. It feels like there isn’t a terrific difficulty curve on display here, with even your first opponents in Arcade or Story mode able to almost immediately launch into eight-hit combos that take out a good chunk of your health. And that led me to one of the worst questions game critics can find themselves asking: “Is there something wrong here, or am I just bad at this game?”

Once I noticed how aggressive the other fighters were being, I began to ask just what audience Pocket Bravery is actually aimed at. It clearly wants to be more accessible to casual fighting game fans, with the addition of optional simplified controls, extra tutorial sessions that can teach folks the basics of fighting games, and a Training mode with a large amount of customizable options, such as being able to see all the data for each of your moves, down to even showing you how many frames an attack uses. But that right there is a detail that only the most dedicated fighting game enthusiasts would appreciate, and overall, it feels like the game leans more towards that crowd as a whole.

I still had fun with Pocket Bravery, though. The devs are at least committed towards trying to make the game accessible to everyone, and clearly want players to learn more and develop strategies over time. But with that, this ode to classic fighting games feels less approachable at first, lacking the “pick up and play” simplicity that the greats had. Still, with a lot of fun characters, cool moves, great visuals and a ton of content to explore (including additional Survival, Time Attack, and Trials modes with various challenges and a shop with extra stages, palettes and more to purchase, plus online play), Pocket Bravery is still worth checking out, even if you might be better off with the original Neo Geo Pocket Color’s fighting games.

Closing Comments:

Pocket Bravery is a valiant attempt to pay tribute to the classic fighting games of old while still providing a modern twist, offering up a ton of various modes, options, extra content and more. The downside is that everything it offers feels overwhelming at times, especially with difficult enemies making it feel like the game is pressuring you to begin becoming a fighting game master ASAP. Still, between the beautiful presentation, the nice bits of accessibility and a cast of fun characters that you’ll want to try out, this is one fighter that might still be worth taking a look at, even if you were always more of a fan of the WonderSwan.

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