Not my kind of party.
Way back in the olden days of dialup, multiplayer gaming actually required the multiple players to be in the same place. Games like Mario Kart, Goldeneye and Super Monkey Ball are memorable first and foremost because they were loads of fun to play with a group of people. Brawl takes one of the popular party game styles (Bomberman), and dresses it up with dark characters and settings. Unfortunately, the visual aesthetic gets more attention than anything else, and Brawl fails the fun test.
The basic gameplay is as expected – playing on maze-like levels, players attempt to take each other out. There are eight playable characters in Brawl, each with unique special attacks in addition to the standard bombs. There is both local and online play, including some co-op challenges that can be tackled with a friend.
Multiplayer: Local and online
The characters are introduced by way of Brawl’s tutorial/campaign mode. I use the slash because I’m not entirely sure what the intent is – basic play information for each character is covered in their campaign, but I never got a good feel for any of them. There were special attacks with unexplained requirements, and even the basics of combat weren’t entirely clear – I kept collecting bombs on the map but my supply never ran out, so I don’t really know why I was collecting them.
The game unfortunately doubles down on the issue by severely ramping up the difficulty shortly into the campaigns. Whether I was facing multiple enemies or a single heavy boss, it feels like the equivalent of being taught how to hammer a nail and then immediately asked to build a house. In each of the campaigns, there is an almost comical jump from vague instruction to frantic action and the reality of learning while repeatedly being killed quickly sours the experience.
Even when I understood the basics (put bombs in places that will kill things), I felt like I was fighting game more than opponent. The playing field is divided into squares, and placing a bomb put it on the square I was standing on. That worked well when I was leaving a bomb behind me as I walked, but was consistently problematic when going from point A to B and back again. If I went a hair too far when I got to B and planted the bomb I would be trapped on the wrong side of it, unable to get back to A and often in the path of said bomb, an enemy, or both.
Brawl attempts to distinguish itself with a dark look and feel, and for the most part it delivers in that respect. The character models are nice and creepy, and the narrator for the campaigns is appropriately sinister. At the start I liked the kind of dark circus feel to the music in the Clown’s campaign, but my enthusiasm faded when the same track started re-appearing when I was playing with other characters.
I applaud Brawl for including local multiplayer along with the online, something more and more games are neglecting to do. While getting in a room with friends gets harder as we all get older, it’s still nice to have things to play when we do. In this case it turns out to be a necessity – during multiple play times with Brawl I was never able to find an online game.
Brawl wants to be a dark take on party games, and while the aesthetic somewhat holds up its end of the bargain the actual game part leaves a lot to be desired. The tutorial sabotages the game right from the start, and the challenge spike 10 minutes in may be the most evil part of the whole package. If you purchased the developer’s 2014 game Basement Crawl you can download Brawl for free, but other than that it should be avoided.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.