Nintendo surely have the most comprehensive roster of characters of any game company, past or present. Super Smash Bros. was a coup de grace of game design, bringing stars such as Mario, Link, Donkey Kong and Pikachu together and allowing them to smack seven bells out of each other. While the hugely popular fighting game series has appeared on the last four Nintendo home consoles – and the 3DS – there’s currently no sign of it appearing on the Switch. This is where Brawlout comes in.
Brawlout isn’t so much an homage to Smash Bros. as it is Smash Bros., albeit with a diminutive roster of home-grown characters and a couple of recent indie stars. Coming from small developer Angry Mob Games, they’ve cribbed the 2D multiplayer brawler gameplay from Nintendo’s series, made a few changes, and popped it out with the obvious intention of filling that hole in the Switch’s line-up. Luckily you will also be able get in on the action on PS4, Xbox One and PC too – it’s pencilled in for a 2018 release and is in Early Access on PC.
In bouts between two to four players, the aim of the game is to knock your opponents off the screen, which you can only achieve by first softening them up as much as possible by smacking them with your hands, fists, swords, or, erm, tongues and wings. A percentage readout at the bottom of the screen tells you how much damage they’ve received, and the higher the number the better chance you have of landing a smash attack which will send them shooting past the edge of the screen, making them lose one of their three lives. There’s no prizes for guessing that the winner is the one with the least number of deaths.
The folks at Angry Mob Games have definitely done a good job of aping the feel of Smash Bros. with a similar weight to movement and attacks. One of the key changes has been the removal of the block button, and while it makes bouts more aggressive and free-flowing, I have to wonder whether it’s a decision based more on differentiating Brawlout from its inspiration rather than what serves the action best. It’s more accessible for sure, but in a game that was announced at EVO perhaps they’re missing the point a little.
While the action itself still feels enjoyably familiar, the stages in Brawlout often feel like poor cousins to those in Smash Bros., having lost a good deal of the scale from Nintendo’s offering. Of course there’s the argument that they’re never going to be able to compete with fighting atop such recognisable locations as Peach’s castle or Starfox’s Great Fox starship, but equally none of them have much identity beyond “jungle stage” or “ice stage”. That doesn’t mean they don’t serve their purpose – they do– but if you’re expecting major transitions from area to area you’re going to come away disappointed.
The other source of disappointment is likely to be the character roster. All in all there are eight distinct characters to choose from, with the rest effectively just being reskinned versions of the game’s core of six original characters. The two extras are cameos in the form of The Drifter from Heart Machine’s Hyper Light Drifter – whose light sword makes him a perfect fit for Marth or Roy fans – as well as Juan from Guacamelee!, both of whom fit in nicely and add some much needed depth, but overall your options are still a bit limited. This is however an indie game from a small developer, and the game isn’t priced in such a way that you’d expect a huge cast. Hopefully they’ll continue to expand on it though, and I’d love to see them explore other indie game characters that would fit the bill.
All of the extra skins and the majority of the stages are locked up in an in-game store that you have to use currency in-game to unlock. It’s a concept I’m more than happy with – the Marvel Vs Capcom 2 store remains the high point of this – but the relative rewards don’t feel entirely essential. More of the stages should be available from the off, and it would have been great if there were some further unique characters to earn, but again, perhaps I’m unfairly expecting too much from Brawlout.
The game does offer a small range of online and offline modes, with singleplayer arcade towers to work through, as well as tutorial and practice modes. There’s the all-important local multiplayer, and while online currently offers 1v1 or group matches there are promises of the introduction of Brawlout TV and further improvements in the future.
Brawlout is fundamentally a great take on the Smash Bros. format, and they’ve nailed the weight of the characters, movement, and the pure fun that getting four players together for some combative carnage can bring. Unfortunately the limited roster and the unrewarding grind of the in-game store can temper that somewhat, but as a starting point for a new indie fighting franchise there’s a lot here to like.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch