I first saw Brawlout a long time ago at Eurogamer Expo, and it caught my eye. I have a soft spot for platform arena fighters but I haven’t really seen any that have grabbed like early Smash Bros games, before the character count spiralled out of control and items littered the stages.
The simplicity of Brawlout is what appealed. As a character you have a series of directional attacks, a series of directional special attacks, a double jump and a dodge. It’s a ‘back to basics’ approach could better be described as a focus on the fundamentals of the game – pure combat.
It’s tailored to this audience too – announced and demo’ed (and tested) at fighting game tournaments, it’s preaching to the Smash audience. Without Nintendo’s lore, characters and stages have to be created from scratch and some fair better than others.
Characters first – I think they’re actually pretty decent. Taking cues from the animal kingdom, you have a gorilla, a falcon, a frog… which sounds a bit lame, until I tell you that the gorilla is called Olaf Tyson and is a brawler, the frog is a luchadore, and the porcupine is a Shaman with electrical abilities. They all look chunky, nicely animated and it has an action figure vibe, like Amiibos have come to life.
You get the gist. No fighter is complete without guest stars, and there’s some nice crossovers with Yooka-Laylee, Hyper Light Drifter and Guacamelee (a game where the directional attacks crossover quite nicely here). Levels however are a bit more bland. Basic layouts, generic environments – ice area, jungle, canyon sort of provide a backdrop but don’t have the buzz of a Hyrule castle with accompanying soundtrack. Brawlout’s music – whilst not bad – is kind of forgettable.
It doesn’t really matter though – Brawlout is about the action and the backgrounds rightly should take second fiddle to that. But this is where Brawlout’s greatest strength becomes its greatest weakness. If you’re relying on your gameplay, it has to be good. And mostly it is. Yet the absence of a block or grab mechanics seem baffling. The only defence becomes dodging, which can result in fights descending into a lot of back and forward rolling until someone connects with an attack, and the rolling continues. This can then favour certain attacks, such as Paco’s grab attack (one of the few characters to have a grab as a directional attack) or Sephi’ra’s quicksand which freezes characters to one spot, essentially neutralising their roll.
As such, aggressive play is favoured and can feel like a rush to the finish rather than a deliberate use of strategy. A rage meter adds a layer of tactics, where you build a meter as you take damage allowing you to ‘blast’ to break combos or enable Rage Mode which essentially reduces your damage and ‘knock back’ (chances of being punched off stage). It’s a welcome addition but doesn’t do enough to offset the basics.
It’s also very geared toward multiplayer play (online or couch). Sadly, you can only do 3/4 player fights online if you play in private rooms with friends, so battles with randoms are restricted to 1v1 affairs. Most games I’ve tried worked well with little latency but I have had a few stinkers.
Single player does exist, but is just ‘there’. You can do quick matches vs the CPU, or the main campaign which is just a classic arcade ladder with some dialogue as you meet each character and they threaten you. There’s no over-arching story, just a one after the other affair. It’s dry, but then it’s not really the main course here.
I think in the wake of Smash Bros upcoming release for Switch, and Brawlhalla on PS4 being free-to-play (which does do this type of game better in my opinion), Brawlout is a tough sell. I think if you’re predominantly playing with friends and want something quite simple (and want an entire roster available to chop and choose between) then this is worth a look, otherwise there are better options.
Reviewed on PS4