I’ve always had an interest in fighting games, since the first time I played Street Fighter 2 on my brothers’ Amiga at the age of 6 they’ve held a special place in my heart. About 8 years ago, my friend and I decided to stop button mashing and actually learn fighting games, learn the combos, learn the styles and learn the specials. Now, I’m not going to pretend to be pro or even close to entering tournaments, but I can hold my own in most fighting games. Back in the N64 era when Nintendo released Smash Brothers things went wonky for me. No longer was it about learning combos, it was now about learning mechanics and weapons. Rather than being able to jump into 90% of games and trying either charging a character or going straight for a quarter circle and punch I now had to learn every single character. As insanely popular as the Smash series is there isn’t the usual run of similar products that a popular new style of game generally encourages. Years later and we still don’t see that style of platform brawler that often, especially from Nintendo itself. With the Switch creeping up on a year old we still have no announcement of a new smash game or even a re-release of the quite highly regarded Wii U version. So to pick up the slack and try to pick up some of those early adopters and fans of the genre we have Brawlout.
Brawlout wears its inspiration on its sleeve. This is clearly an homage to the smash games, one that brings with it the good and the bad aspects of Nintendo fans favourite brawler. A cast of characters that features a lucadore frog, the main characters from Hyper Light Drifter and Guacamelee and an infuriating bird all come together to try and not be punched off the platforms into an abyss. Where Brawlout differs from the Smash series, apart from missing Mario et al, is the lack of weapons. Instead you must rely on a handful of moves to get you through each fight and that’s it.
This is where brawlout loses me personally. Smash Brothers has 2 main things going for it, firstly the nostalgia and novelty hit of have Nintendo characters beating seven shades out of each other and secondly is the weapons, most of which are call backs to older games. The weapons in smash are the great leveller, they can make or break a match in an instant. With Brawlout the victor is decided on the character select screen. The balancing is pretty atrocious, there’s a number of characters with moves taken straight from Smash but without the other characters that have the suitable counters. It’s not simply a case of ‘the better player will win’, often it feels too much like ‘the better character will win’ which is an intrinsic problem in a fighting game. There’s a bird character who feels like they are able to fly forever and as such only a proper ring out will lose them a life. Other characters like the luchadore frog have a reach on their grab which is just cruel and the Drifter from Hyper Light Drifter has melee range that just can’t be outdone. Playing online will mean you just see the same few characters over and over and that’s a fun killer.
At the start of the game you’ll have just 3 stages and a handful of characters, over time you can unlock more stages by levelling up each character and you can get more characters by hitting up the loot box shop. Loot boxes are in the form of Pinatas, thankfully Brawlout plays the good guy here by not allowing real money to unlock things, the flip side however is that the in game currency takes too long to grind, even if you’re good.
Playing to unlock 100% of levels and characters is entirely do-able and it wouldn’t be a lifetime away, a couple dozen hours or arcade and online should get you everything, the problem with that is that you’ll be pretty much done in terms of interest after a handful of hours tops. Unless the fighting game community pick this game up and the online players stick around there isn’t really much to keep you coming back. The modes are basically play to X lives or play to X time. Sure you could throw in extra AI players but in all honesty getting stuck in combo loops with one AI is bad enough, having 3 enemies constantly bounce you around the map is just too much to handle.
I don’t want a pure Smash rip off, I’m not even the worlds biggest Smash fan, what I wanted was something new being brought to the table, and unfortunately Brawlout doesn’t do that. It brings some nicely stylised graphics and a really catchy soundtrack, Hyper Light Drifter’s Drifter and Juan from Guacamelee are fun additions but outside of that it’s the tournament rules Smash Brothers with simple maps and no weapons, it’s lacking the heart and fun of Smash and doesn’t replace it with anything truly original. The characters it has are all animals with their colours played with, I would have been far more interested if the developers could have kept running with Juan and Drifter and created the first Indie Character Brawler in the vain of Playstation All Stars, but good. Brawlout isn’t a hot mess, it’s a perfectly serviceable game that will entertain for a few hours, especially with friends playing, it’s just missing some of the joy and nuances that made Smash so special. For $20 its certainly worth a go, it has it’s moments, just don’t expect to be playing it in a couple of months time.