REVIEW: Brawlhalla

Friday, November 24th, 2017

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Title Brawlhalla
Developer Blue Mammoth Games
Publisher Blue Mammoth Games
Release Date October 17 2017
Genre Fighting
Platform PlayStation 4, Windows/Mac
Age Rating E10+
Official Website

The first thing you’re going to notice with Brawlhalla is that it resembles Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. The gameplay shares many similarities, as well. While it obviously doesn’t have the star power of Nintendo’s own cast, Brawlhalla plays distinctly enough from its spiritual forebear to be called fun. It’s a 2D fighter where up to four colorful mascots beat each other up to accrue damage, and if you get knocked off or fall off stage, you lose a point. It feels similar but different at once, unique in its own way, and can become jolly good fun.

While there are no familiar characters here, Brawlhalla boasts a diverse range of colorful characters, known in-universe as Legends. The game’s animated aesthetic casts a wide net over science fiction, Nordic mythology, eastern Asia, westerns, and more to define its cast. The characters look fun and have a lot of personality. A glance at their profiles creates a lore around these disparate legends, connecting multiple characters and detailing how they journeyed into the afterlife Valhalla to fight for eternity.

Everyone feels similar at the bare bones surface, but there’s surprising hidden depth. Every character has statistical differences, and with leveling up can be boosted slightly. Everyone’s attacks have unique arcs and timing so you’ll have to master them in order to score a suitable knock-out. I tended to gravitate towards Ragnir, Orion, and Teros, who feel like the right balance of accessibility and pure power. As far as their look, you can tell each and every Legend will have their fans in the community, and yes, fan art aplenty already exists.

Brawlhalla | Legends

Brawlhalla’s cast of Legends

Characters can be divided by their weapons of choice, among which are swords, spears, axes, and firearms. Each one feels different in how they handle, giving you opportunity to experiment to get a taste for which one you prefer (know that the humble spear is the weakest weapon of the bunch). Each character is plenty strong just on their own with their fists and feet, but grabbing a weapon really buffs them up and is the preferred way to play. Outside of weaponry that appears all over the stage, the only drop items of note are meant to be tossed, with bombs, mines, and mace balls being the order of the day.

You don’t block and shield here like you do in Smash Bros., you dodge. Instead of grabbing opponents, you can toss and throw your weapons and items. Like the best of fighting games, you’ll have to master character hit boxes, when to time attacks, and how to dodge around an opponent’s fast moves. Jumping is also a major aspect of combat, and you’re surprisingly agile, capable of jumping up to two times and wall jumping in order to stay afloat on the stage. It’s a fair means to survive high damage hits in contrast to similar fighters. Make no mistake, learning the ropes is tough. While outwardly easy to play, it’s difficult to master.

Brawlhalla | Smash

Everybody smash!

In contrast to the animated characters you play as, the stages you actually fight on are thematically perfunctory. There’s a small variety of them and their primary shtick revolves around moving platforms and the occasional angled corner, designed to funnel high damaged fighters out of the ring. The stages do make for lots of jumping around, avoiding hazards-as-novelty in favor of focusing on the battle. Their complexity is defined by how few and small workable platforms there are, with the more demanding stages hastening your survival. The razor thin platforms in the stages can easily be dropped through, which may lead to some accidental falls if you’re overly twitchy.

The bulk of how you play Brawlhalla is likely to be online, which is the primary focus in the home menu. You can fight in free-for-alls, of course, or test your luck in ranked play. There’s not just basic brawling online, as Brawlhalla offers multiple ways to duke it out. 1v1 strikeouts work similarly to Marvel vs Capcom where you select 3 characters until one person stands. The good thing about this mode is at least it removes much of the visual clutter of normal 4 on 4 matches, making them much tenser skirmishes of life or death. Playing in teams of 2 on 2 gives soloists who aren’t good at playing under normal circumstances a fighting chance of winning. Also a draw for those who stick around will be the “Brawl of the Week” mode, where the type of matches change routinely. The good news is that the online works seamlessly with nary a drop. Things could be worse if the computer didn’t take over for opponents who drop out, or in layman’s terms: rage quit.

Brawlhalla | Menu

The top menu you’re greeted with in Brawlhalla

If Smash Bros. operated as a live free-to-play title, it’d be like Brawlhalla. Every time you load the game up, you get daily check-in gold as the game’s currency. What you buy with the game’s gold currency includes character skins, random unlock chests, and even animation effects such as the look of your knock-outs. Those chests hold the key to even more rare costumes. From what I can gather, they don’t do anything for your performance, they just look “neat.” Of course, Smash Bros. includes alt. skins for all its characters in-game (in every installment, mind you) for no extra cost, but this is F2P we’re talking about. These outward appearance elements are ultimately inessential, but your mileage and need for skins may vary. What you may want to purchase, however, is the Founder’s Pack, which gives you instant access to all future playable characters as they are released: important to keeping up with the game’s competitive scene.

As it’s a game that’s in its developing life, Brawlhalla is in need of a tutorial mode, a way to practice before going online. The need to have to learn how to play in a fly by night manner may frustrate new players who will be thrust in with no idea what they’re doing. I needed a way to train without being online worrying about my performance against real people, and it could very well be added in later via an update.

The drawback of the online focus on battling is how it reveals the game’s lack of variety. In continued contrast with Nintendo’s Smash Bros. which had plenty of things to do outside of battles, Brawlhalla lacks those frills. It’s fighting or nothing, with no such trivialities of target practice, trophy hunting, or arcade modes. The other complaint is on a technical level, but I found the action to be too zoomed out. I made an accidental self-destruct more than once because it was gosh-darn hard to keep track of where my character was on-screen. Brawlhalla‘s a pretty fast-paced game after all, so this may be something you have to adjust to.

Brawlhalla | Cast

Brawlhalla’s cast will keep growing in the months to come

When I started out in Brawlhalla, I was admittedly terrible. I got my teeth kicked in with my first match and many more. After playing with each character in every mode up to 10 hours, I better understood its deep mechanics. Altogether, it’s a party-friendly and competitive fighter that demands repeat play in order to master its broad roster. Stay with it long enough, and it proves itself as a fun alternative to that other fighting game series.

Review Score
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About Alex Irish

When he's not writing about games, Alex Irish is an illustrator and animation expert. His favorite gaming franchise has to be Pokemon, full-stop. But his favorite game of all time is Resident Evil 4, He's been an attendee to the first-ever IGN House Party and a five-time attendee of the Ottowa International Animation Festival.