It’s sometimes very interesting to watch the evolution of a title through Early Access on Steam. Though there are a number of occasions where something promising turns into complete dirt (the recent reviews of Hello Neighbor paint a half-baked picture), there are cases where something small and interesting turns into a real work of art. 20XX, for example, is a nonstop vehicle of delivery in terms of new content regularly for investors, and I’ve never been disappointed once with my purchase. And, despite some early misgivings I had, it looks like Brawlout has come to full fruition, especially now with their rather cheeky Switch release.
For those who aren’t aware, Brawlout is an indie fighting game that pulls heavy, heavy influence from Super Smash Bros, through they’re hardly the first to do so. Frantic, four player arena fighters have been quite popular in the last couple of decades, but one could make the case that Smash Bros, with their roster of big names and Nintendo’s proprietary release, helped push the genre to bold new heights. Brawlout’s developer, Angry Mob Games, has arguably less clout and has been slowly making a word for themselves with original characters and takes on the gaming ecosphere in their own way. In that time, they’ve certainly earned themselves some respect and notoriety, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
For those unfamiliar, the prospect of Brawlout is simply to beat the hell out of your opponent(s), either in a timed battle or in a stock “lose this many lives” type situation, sometimes a combination of the two. You can have up to four players going at a time, and there’s a variety of colorful, mostly animal-inspired characters to choose from. Each has their own mini backstory for being in the tournament, but most boil down to the simple “I wanna be the best” situation. And it’s a fighting game, there’s nothing wrong with that. When you have eighteen iterations of King of Fighter, yea, you gotta come up with reasons why these same people keep coming back together, but this is (mostly) a group of unknowns who just wanna dominate. Save the heavy drama and reveals for Brawlout 2, if that’s ever a thing.
First and foremost, the game performs magnificently on a technical scale. Everything is running in fluid, smooth animations, and I had no trouble keeping track of my character as I moved about the screen. As this is an arena brawler, the most common way to win is to knock your opponent off the platform, though the CPU and other players were quite adept at being able to use their jump attacks to save themselves at the last minute. Despite a number of different types of terrain and levels, I never noticed any stuttering or tearing as the scenery changed, ranged attacks were thrown and I was overwhelmed by three other people all ganging up on me at once.
However, everything isn’t perfect, and that will be a point of contention for many. The menu screens take a long time to load, and there was legitimate lag when trying to choose some characters during instances of quickplay. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, on two separate occasions, I had serious screen jump, in which everything seemed to stop for a split second and, when the game “unpaused,” the action had kept going behind the scenes. I’m chalking these instances up to microSD card read and the fact that I’m flexing close to 200 titles currently, but players looking to make this a competitive model should be wary. Nothing spells doom for a serious tournament fighter like a game where players can’t see themselves playing.
Brawlout keeps things simple, with a good number of melee attacks, taunts, limited special attacks, and some last-minute jump attacks to keep things interesting. There are no items that get dropped, no game changing elements that can suddenly spring to life, but the Rage meter slowly builds as you get successful combos, leading to an instance of having a few good, more powerful hits to drop that could change the tide of the game. Each and every character has their own strengths and weaknesses, and players will quickly find out who they align with best. Paco is an amazing grappler and has some amazing reach with his tongue, but he needs to get the first hit in or he’ll be in trouble. Chief Feathers has the best recovery jump time that I can see, but he’s a bit weaker in the ranged attack department. And indie darling Drifter of Hyper Light Drifter fame has some of the best combo work available, but he’s got the same limited jump and recovery as other sword wielding heroes, such as Marth and Roy.
Yes, Brawlout has garnered enough attention to attract the likes of Hyper Light Drifter and Guacamelee (who has a good history on Nintendo already) to add their characters to the fray. Best of all, Angry Mob Games has included these characters at no extra cost and they are unlocked from the very beginning. Additionally, all the characters will eventually be unlocked at the cost of gems and coins, and those come from winning battles of all kinds, not from IAP or pointlessly grinding over and over in the single player circuit. There’s also objectives to achieve on a daily basis, a great alternative to both inspire more play and also to entice players to try things they normally wouldn’t. Which, don’t get me wrong, the single player tower is where I spent a ton of time, but that’s also as a result of not always having people to play with. But for a fighting game to be aware enough to allow players to unlock things via replay with friends instead of going at it alone, that’s just some good insight into the playerbase. Not to mention that Brawlout has timed things perfectly for the holiday season, so, with Sakurai and the Smash team being quite silent, everyone has an opportunity to jump on the wagon and grind the hell out of unlocks when everyone’s home for holiday break.
And, last but not least, the game just looks really nice. Each character has been polished and given color swaps, plenty of costumes to unlock and some brilliant animation for various interactions. One thing people always argue against Brawlout is Rivals of Aether, an objectively more “serious” fighting game, but I’ve never cared for Rivals’ style of art. Brawlout is bright and strong and puts its best foot forward in terms of display, and you’ll fall in love with it too. From crumbling ledges to frozen waterways, there’s a lot going on here for the eye to drink in, and even players who claim not to care about graphics can begrudgingly admit this looks dope.
You’ll probably hear a lot of reviews from fighting centric blogs scream and point fingers at the flaws of Brawlout, and they’ll probably be right. I never claimed to be an EVO regular, nor do I have the prowess to fully understand the need for a fight stick. But I do know when I have fun with a game, and I had damn fun with Brawlout, both alone, with friends and the occasional online match (not a lot of people on Brawlout Switch at the current time, oddly). If you wanna have fun with a fighting game and have something that can get three other friends involved at the same time, Brawlout is going to be a phenomenal experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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