This Pocket Bravery review is played and tested on PC. The game is available only on Steam for € 19,99 / $ 19.99.
In the run-up to Pocket Bravery’s launch, it was interesting to witness how developer Statera Studio actively engaged with the fighting game community throughout its development journey. From insightful development diary posts to demo tournaments at Brazilian esports events, Statera Studio’s dedication to involve the community really shone through. The result? A 2D fighter that goes beyond its charming SD (Super Deformed) Pocket Fighter veneer, promising an exciting and immersive experience for dedicated fans of the genre. The big question is if this studio, without prior fighting game experience, can deliver a experience that can cater to the frame counting hardcore crowd as well as the casual gamers.
Super deformed pocket 2D pocket fighter
The game might, at first sight, present itself as a 2D pixel art fighter inspired by Capcom’s Pocket Fighter. It’s a cute-ified version of Street Fighter with a simplified control scheme and combo system. Although Pocket Fighter is a cult classic and loved by many, I can’t say it spawned a vibrant subgenre in the retro-inspired indie scene. The only game I know of with similar intentions is Pocket Rumble, a game heavily inspired by the fighting games of the Neo Geo Pocket (Color) in terms of style and graphics, featuring some cool additional mechanics. But that’s about it.
Pocket Bravery, on the other hand, adapts the cute-looking characters and adds a surprisingly deep fighting game system, making it ready for esports. The way Statera Studio has been engaging with that scene immediately suggests that this was their intention from the get-go.
Comprehensive command list
Instead of featuring simplified controls and specials, Pocket Bravery implements a combo and specials system that strongly reminds me of the post-2000s King of Fighters. It places a significant emphasis on combos, “pinning” your opponent, and adheres to the classic ‘KoF’ four-button layout. To my delight, “juggling” isn’t a prominent feature in this game. The standout mechanic is its Elemental specials, which introduce an additional layer of unique moves to the already diverse attack options of each character. The inclusion of a “Break” mechanic provides an escape option if you find yourself cornered by your opponent. And last but certainly not least, the visually stunning desperation moves offer you the opportunity to unleash a final and highly effective super special when your HP drops below 30%. Overall, the mechanics are very straightforward and easy to grasp, while still offering enough depth to engage a wide audience of players.
I did find blocking and executing a ‘Break’ move extremely hard to execute, leaving me getting clapped in the corner of the screen with no actual means to escape te pressure. Also, even in lower difficulties, or CPU opponent has a much easier time executing grabs and combos, while I struggled to connect hits. It feels as if the time frames to connect combos are off.
There also appears that there’s an issue with the hitboxes for grabs in Pocket Bravery, and it seems to favor the CPU, often pulling you in from what feels like an excessive distance. This issue is particularly noticeable with characters like Hadassa. While it’s possible to adapt and work around such problems, it can disrupt the natural flow of the game, especially depending on the matchup between characters..
A lot to do
Pocket Bravery surprised me with its incredible array of modes and options. Naturally, it boasts an Arcade mode, both local and online multiplayer options, but it also goes the extra mile by offering modes like Survival, Time Attack, Trials, and even unlockable modes such as Rainbow Edition and Hot Pursuit.
The Story mode takes an interesting approach, guiding you through an illustrated ‘virtual novel’-like experience, where you transition from one character’s perspective to another. The narrative sequences are interspersed with fighting segments that are intricately tied to the story. While the concept is commendable, I found the Story mode to progress rather slowly and failed to capture my attention as much as I had hoped. It leans too heavily on dialogue and lacked enough action to keep me interested. Although the huge amount of screens of ‘action comic’-like hand drawn art, conceptually, it feels like an afterthought.
The arcade mode in Pocket Bravery functions much like any other fighting game you’ve experienced. You have a roster of twelve characters to choose from, and you’ll face off against 8 other characters before finally challenging the game’s boss. Familiarizing yourself with each character’s command list happens quite swiftly. However, as you delve deeper into the game’s mechanics, especially with the help of ‘The Combo Kitchen’ tutorial, you’ll take a significant step into the intricacies of the gameplay.
All over the world
All the characters in Pocket Bravery possess distinctive looks and fighting styles, often rooted in their places of origin. The voice acting, while occasionally exhibiting a bit of audio quality inconsistency, adds an extra layer of attention to detail that this game excels at. However, I do find the character roster to be somewhat unbalanced, as I was able to adapt to one character extremely quickly while struggling significantly with others. Pocket Bravery provides community character stats below the character on the selection screen, which suggests that it was a deliberate choice to make some characters much more challenging to master than others. Undoubtedly, investing time and experience in the genre to develop skills with a particular character will pay off, but it seems tailored more for the hardcore gaming audience.
Pixel art goodness
The Super Deformed look, which you may be familiar with from various Namco/Bandai anime, manga, and video game adaptations, is an art style that takes established anime series and makes them more accessible to a younger audience by exaggerating features like enlarged heads and adopting a cartoony art style. Pocket Bravery embraces this style, albeit with a slightly different approach compared to Pocket Fighter. It’s a somewhat unconventional look, especially as the art style in the cut scenes and story mode doesn’t strictly adhere to the anime aesthetic, but it manages to work to a certain extent.
The game truly shines when you initiate a fight, as it seamlessly transitions to pixel art. This is where Pocket Bravery excels. The visually stunning large pixelated characters not only look fantastic with extremely fluid animation. The Specials, in particular, are exceptionally smooth and well-choreographed.
A side effect of Pocket Bravery’s depth and its focus on catering to the esports fighting scene is that casual players may find themselves feeling like virtual punching bags during online play. It’s unclear whether this is due to a limited user base hindering effective matchmaking, but from my own experience, the few online matches I played left me with mixed feelings. Despite feeling confident after mastering a couple of characters in arcade mode, I quickly realized that online multiplayer is an entirely different beast. It’s a level of competition I haven’t encountered in a while, and although I’ve been able to hold my own on a mid-tier level in several recently released fighters, it seems like Pocket Bravery’s sparsely populated lobbies are predominantly occupied by dedicated hardcore players.
Pocket Bravery is undeniably a game crafted by and for genre connoisseurs, but it manages to offer plenty of enjoyable content for casual players as well. However, diving into the online scene can present a steep learning curve. The game does exhibit some character balance issues and timing/frame count discrepancies, but it’s heartening to see that Statera Studio has been actively patching and supporting the game since its launch, addressing user feedback. This gives me a great deal of confidence that Pocket Bravery will continue to improve and evolve, ultimately becoming a cult classic in the genre, albeit catering primarily to the hardcore audience.
+ Many single player modes available
+ Great pixel art
+ Specials en Elemental move animations
+ Deep mechanics
+ Rollback netcode
- Steep learning curve
- Blocking and hitbox issues
- Somewhat unbalanced character roster
- beginner and casual unfriendly matchmaking/player count