Reviews

Brawlout – Early Access Preview (PC)

Many Brawlers have tried their hand at tweaking and innovating the Brawler genre, but none have stood as tall as Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers series.  Brawlout, developer Angry Mob’s latest entry, aims to simplify the genre to its core tenants by delivering a charming and mechanically sound, albeit familiar, Brawler experience.

This preview covers the PC version played with a gamepad, and does not include many features that will be present on full release.

Gameplay

Brawlout’s basic gameplay is familiar to anyone who has played a brawler before – two to four players are thrown into an arena to duke it out with fire punches, sword slashes, and ice beams.  The goal is simple: knock the other players out of the arena and be the last one standing.

Cast

Brawlout’s cast, which currently sits at 8 fighters in early access, is varied enough – but not impressively so.  Each fighter is visually distinct, and it makes it easy on a new player to learn movesets with clear visual feedback amidst the chaos of battle.  However, I would have loved to see more imagination at play in the character design.  The fundamental idea for each original character is a cartoon conversion of a real life animal: a cat, bird, monkey, etc, and the characters are all roughly the same size and speed.  Seeing as Brawlout is not restricted to designing characters from previously established lore or a specific overarching brand, I feel that there was a missed opportunity to really think outside of the box.  Instead, the characters feel generic, and the movesets of the fighters feel too familiar from playing previous games in the Brawler genre.

Smartly, however, Brawlout features a couple of indie-favorites as fighters: The Drifter, from Hyper Light Drifter, and Juan, from Guacamelee.  This is where the character variety shines, as The Drifter’s speed is conveyed with deadly elegance, and Juan’s extravagant power moves are weighty and satisfying.  Any fans of these two games will be pleased to feel how well Angry Mob managed to express the unique feel established in their respective titles.

Graphics

The game is beautiful and is rendered spectacularly.  The graphics are top notch and the art direction suits the simplicity of the game.  Characters animate with life and convey their abilities with necessary weight.  The most spectacular sights are the arenas, which vary from a lost kingdom sitting atop the deep blue ridges of a mountainside, to the mellow orange sunset that engulfs an Egyptian water shrine.

Brawlout’s mechanical differentiator is the Rage Meter, which fills as you land hits or take damage.  At 50%, you can activate a momentum and damage canceling move that can save some distance for an easier recovery, or set up a counter attack on a combo-ing enemy.  At 100%, you can activate Rage Mode, which gives a temporary buff that knocks your enemies farther and makes you harder to knock away.  Interestingly, character’s lesser special moves, such as The Drifter’s Laser Gun or Sephira’s Sandstorm, expend some Rage Energy, raising an interesting economic decision for the player to either spend their Rage on saving their hide or to pull off a gnarly special move.  Unfortunately, however, the Rage mechanics are not fully explained to the player – even in the advanced tutorials.

Controls

Although the controls were responsive, I found transitioning between aerial and ground combos difficult due to the sluggish jumping.  Locomotion in general didn’t feel as precise as I wanted due to the lack of ways to cancel specific animations like climbing ledges or hitting the ground after being hit.  Recoveries are more difficult due to their shorter range.  Dashing, short-hopping, and ledge-grabbing are not 100 percent consistent, but they are by no means game-breaking.

Performance

Performance is great, as I never experienced stuttering or dropped frames, even on the highest settings.  A consistently high performance is important, especially for the frame counters among us who rely on every monitor-refresh to pull off their premeditated combos.  I was also surprised at low latency 1 vs. 1 matchmaking that always felt responsive.  The only time I experienced a few network hitches was during 4-player private matches, although we were told ahead of time that this was being worked on for the full release.

Another strong point is the menus and user experience.  The menus are beautiful, responsive, and have certain key features.  You can view and save your replays, as well as view replays of fights of other online players.  Players are rewarded coins for completing certain challenges found in the menus which they can redeem to unlock fighter skins and other goodies.  Controls are fully customizable, and you can even set an input lag in milliseconds to adjust to your play-style.  The practice arena even allows the player to see fighter’s hitboxes for hard-core players planning their lethal combos.  You can even run offline battles as you matchmake in the background for an online match.  Single-Player Arcade and the Coin-Redemption store are not included until full-release.  One area of disappointment is a lack of deep statistics, as the game only tracks a few per fighter.  Post-match statistics are also sparse.

Verdict

Brawlout feels fundamentally sound enough for hard-core players to latch onto, while being accessible and aesthetically pleasing enough to draw in anyone else.  The game doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel or inundate you with unnecessary frills, but works hard to solidify the core aspects of a good Brawler.


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