The Brawl Is Fun, but for How Long?
Brawlout is a mash-up fighting game geared toward couch co-op, competitive play, and online beatdowns. Its roster is a compilation of original characters and guest stars from eponymous indie titles, the likes of which include Guacamelee, Yooka-Laylee, and Hyperlight Drifter. The fighting game genre has adopted a standardized formula, now and then overridden by technical innovation, captivating lore, and standout heroes. Unfortunately, Brawlout lacks all three.
Developer Angry Mob Games is not out to reinvent the wheel. From what I gather, Brawlout trying to rebrand the fighting game basics and establish an identity. This fighter’s Identity stems from its roster, a total of 9 characters available at the time of this review, along with 15 variants. The relatively short list offers a double-edged sword in terms of accessibility – Any player can jump in and get a feel for a fighter pretty quickly; afterward, the vehicle of the game is replay value. The first hour, for the most part, delivers a snapshot of everything the game has to offer. A snapshot without a story.
Thin on Content
Despite boasting a roster with original characters, Brawlout features next to nothing in the way of a single-player campaign. Which means no exposition, no elaborate backstory, and no investment. Instead, our introduction comes in the form of a menu: Couch Play, Single-player, Online, and Tournaments. You won’t learn anything about the character you’ve selected until you’ve beaten the final stage of Arcade Mode. Even then, what biographical information we’re given is brief and shallow, to the point where you’re not sure if you should care.
In terms of gameplay, Brawlout has a somewhat low learning curve, a result of the small character roster. For the base nine characters, which includes the guest characters, every move set is unique, and the mastery of each requires a meager time investment. Moreover, the animation work is splendid, perfectly in synch with the sound bite of every punch, kick, and grab. The ebb and flow of gameplay bleed a feedback loop that makes every melee combo satisfying when executed properly. And though they may seem like nothing more than skins, at first, each one of the character variants offers a minor twist. As an example, Gancho Puncho, the variant of Paco, can throw his hat like a projectile. Volt’s variant Vandal can spin in the air Samus style. A minor yet grave assault on the senses, however, is the lack of a crouch animation, which leads to some of my gripes.
You can never tell if you’re pressing the down button since no character has a crouching animation. This stipulation may smack your senses sideways after you’ve attacked in the wrong direction (down attacks are dynamic). Furthermore, the fast-paced nature of the game can make recovery from a strike difficult to impossible to pull off. There were other moments where I successfully struck a character and finished (or continued) the attack on the other side of them. All in all, I’d say Brawlout matches run smoothly but are not exactly pristine.
Gripes aside, Brawlout does feel like a balanced fighting game. No character feels quite overpowered or clumsy, but like in all brawlers worth their salt, there are exploits. For example, fighter Olaf Tyson can use his ice ability to platform outside of the arena stage. Other players will do this online, which can be fun; the small caveat to online play is that you do have to rely on peer-to-peer connections, which leads to choppy matches every now and then. Once you do jump into a fair fight, you’ll still feel the salt in your veins when a more skilled opponent beats you into next week, which is natural.
A few hours into the experience, you might have to kick yourself into playing more. That’s because Cosmetic rewards and the progression system don’t feel that rewarding. Skins and emotes come via pinatas, Brawlout’s form of RNG loot boxes. The coins you earn to buy pinatas are not hard to obtain, but it is a grind. Thus, if you’re not completely in love with gameplay, the in-game rewards quickly lose their luster.
I’ll end with the elephant in the room – Brawlout can’t compare to AAA fighting games like Super Smash Bros., which it seems to take inspiration from. Some fighting games expand on the genre with their interweaving of mechanics, complexity, and artistic flair. Others try and offer too much, so break the balance or forget about the importance of fun factor. Brawlout seems supremely content with the middle ground, to be fun but unremarkable. There’s no Mario, Scorpion, or Comic Book front man on the cover; instead, the obscure roster fails to carry the brawler beyond the appeal of any fighting game with an ongoing legacy. The diamond in the rough comes in the form of free character updates, the next one being the Dead Cells hero. However, I can’t base the final on how much better the experience will be a year from now.
***A PS4 review code was provided by the publisher***
- Splendid animations
- Unique characters
- Good combat design
- Small roster
- No story or campaign
- Lackluster progression system
- Gets old very quick