Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. Remember that? The unlikely spectacle of our favourite mascots squaring up for cartoon fisticuffs, Smash Bros style, was pretty novel in those PS3 and Vita days. Back then, I had some fleeting fun playing as Sackboy in unusually pugnacious form, gleefully knocking lumps out of Nathan Drake. More recently, however, it’s been a pretty barren time for fans of comedy brawlers. Cue Brawlout, a colourful beat-em-up which, visually at least, takes inspiration from the past masters. Can it trade blows with the best, or is it overshadowed by the fighting greats? Let’s find out.
Without a line-up of iconic characters to trade on, Brawlout does struggle to land a strong first impression. The roster comprises some fairly generic Saturday morning TV fodder, many of whom have to be unlocked. There’s nothing to immediately draw you in apart from the smattering of more familiar guest characters. Yooka-Laylee make an appearance, and those who’ve played Guacamelee may be happy to see the inclusion of Juan. Other indie game leads are, apparently, likely to be added in future updates. Me? I couldn’t care less about any of the characters, which immediately gave me less impetus to play.
Attack, it is often said, is the best form of defence, and that’s certainly true in Brawlout. Players accustomed to a more defensive style of play will initially be flummoxed by the absence of any kind of block function. You can jump to evade your opponent’s attacks, but this strategy carries a degree of risk as airborne attacks feature heavily in the game. Instead, you rely on a dodge manoeuvre, which is not always effective in a game as frantic as this. Being caught in a juggling act of combos is an irritatingly frequent occurrence. So, inevitably, you need to seize the initiative, taking the fight to your foes before you run out of ledge and plummet to your demise. The absence of block effectively dictates the pace of the fights, which you’ll either love or hate.
The action plays out over a variety of static and dynamic stages which certainly pay homage to the Smash Bros aesthetic. Typically, there are several platforms available during the frenzied action and you’ll find yourself exploiting the space as you dance around the level in a back and forth rhythm. Sometimes the stages shift and crumble around you, enforcing a different style of play as the battle wears on.
During the bout, each fighter is equipped with three lives. You diminish these by knocking your foe off the stage or depleting their energy through attacks. Personally, I favoured the former, as it kept matches fairly snappy. The square and triangle buttons control the basic attacks; when applied in conjunction with the left stick, you can access additional moves depending on the direction used. It’s reasonably intuitive if a little fiddly on occasion. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is missing in terms of feel, but somehow the blows felt they lacked the impact and weight of the best fighters. The rage mechanic adds a little flavour to the mix, though. As you absorb damage, your rage metre builds, lending increased power to your attacks and giving you a fighting chance of a comeback. Think Hulk Hogan’s rage, suddenly rallying after a beating. You also have charge moves at your disposal, increasing the damage you can inflict in one hit.
Visually, Brawlout is crisp and colourful, and in my time with it, the game seemed to hold up even during the more frenetic moments. I’ve seen complaints of glitching from some quarters, but I didn’t encounter any examples of this. The stages are varied if a little spartan, while the sound neither intrudes or engages. It’s good enough.
Brawlout brings plenty of modes to the party. Single player boasts an arcade mode, where you progress through a variety of one-on-one tussles before finally facing off against Paco, the infernal frog with a penchant for the spinning piledriver. There’s a quick match mode, too, if you simply fancy a brief game against the CPU. As you would expect, multiplayer comes with the full suite of options including tournaments, ranked matches and private lobbies. Sadly, in searching for an online match, I was continually timed out. Whether this can be attributed to the vagaries of my poor Internet connection or simply a lack of players at this stage, I’m not sure.
Your rewards for playing and progressing come via coins and gems which can be spent in the store. You utilise this in-game currency to gradually unlock new characters and skins, but, honestly, I couldn’t be bothered. There is a serious grind involved in this and it’s for committed players only. The content is simply not compelling enough to merit the time investment.
I mentioned in my opening remarks how I’d derived some fleeting fun from this style of game in the past, and, admittedly, there is fun to be had with Brawlout, too. But it’s a transient kind of fun, and without a stellar line-up of famous mascots to sustain it, Brawlout does not have lasting appeal. It looks good, and it plays ok; it’s a competent game. However, in a world where we all have too many games to play, that’s probably not enough. Those desperate for a Smash Bros style of experience will find much to enjoy initially, but the rest of us will ultimately find Brawlout a little forgettable.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*