The party-style fighting game has been a pretty underrepresented genre thus far. The Super Smash Bros. series is the top dog, but between the first and last entries of that franchise, only Power Stone 2 on the Dreamcast and the duo of Jump Superstars games on the DS can claim to be anywhere close in quality. PC gamers have normally been left out of games like this, but that's starting to turn around. Overruled! is one of the first such titles to be built from the ground up for the PC.
Overruled! is only comprised of two main modes. Single-player has you going through up to six challenges with one character over specific scenarios, though the game at this early stage only features three characters. Multiplayer, both online and offline, comprises the other mode and presents the player with different match types. The standard match has you beating up other fighters; your points rack up faster as you take out more people. In King of the Hill, you try to stay in one spot to rack up points while trying to keep everyone else away. Race has you collecting flags throughout the level while another rule set asks you to collect as many coins as possible. Another scenario has you holding on to a money bag for as long as possible. Yet another match type has you trying to tag another player, and you earn points as long as you're not the one who's burning.
The hook is that none of the aforementioned rule sets are actually separate modes in multiplayer. Each match starts off with one of those rule sets, and in the course of five minutes, those match types change out every 30 seconds. What can start as a King of the Hill match, for example, can turn into a coin grab match, so the focus shifts very quickly. To add to that sense of randomness, players can also pick up and hold up to three rule cards at a time and change the rules at the press of a button. Regular brawls can quickly become races if someone has the right card to play. Respawn times after a defeat can fluctuate from one to 10 seconds, depending on the card. Five points gained can change from one to 20 to 10. The ability to double-jump and disable melee and projectile attacks can also go active at any time, and the chance to lock down a match type for another 30 seconds can occur. You can even switch between team and solo play. Of course, rules can be reset with a card, and players can even veto a rule card from being played with the right card.
The frantic nature of the constant rule changes keeps things wildly interesting, and it never feels like you can hold on to an advantage for too long. Players who may excel at one match type may be at a disadvantage in another set, so there is a strange sort of balance since the game doesn't favor anyone. This is definitely a fighting game for those who need constant mental stimulation.
While the fluid game mechanics are a fresh take on the party fighting genre, the fighting currently brings down the game. At this stage, all of the characters are very similar to each other in terms of move sets and strengths. There's only one strike combination for melee stuff, and even though the projectile attacks look different, each one doles out the same amount of damage and has the same cooldowns. Those moves also don't seem to carry any weight, so the strikes go through the motions instead of showing some force behind the moves. The physics also ruin the look and flow of the fight, since fighters simply are knocked away after receiving a combo before stopping halfway and dropping straight down. The levels don't provide any interesting changes to the battle, and that's surprising for players who are used to playing in stages that feature some kind of battle gimmick. There's also no way to change the game options, so you'll have to bear with getting modes that no one at the party may like. Finally, no bot play means that playing for practice can only be done by inserting a dummy second player into the fray. That's pretty bad when it's difficult to find an online multiplayer game, as evidenced by the lack of online players during our preview period.
The presentation is a bit rough in both good and bad ways. The graphics use a cel-shaded style that displays some self-shadowing, but the character models are stylistically ugly, almost as if on purpose. This is fine, but the animations are limited, so walking looks odd, jumping looks stiff, and strikes need their limbs blown up to show that people are attacking each other. The environments may have diverse backgrounds, but they are otherwise lifeless and don't have anything memorable. As for the sound, the music is fine, even if it isn't that memorable, but the voices vary wildly between decent to bad. The performance is listless for one character and mismatched on another. A few hit their mark, but overall, this isn't a set of voices you'll remember for the right reasons.
Since Overruled! is an Early Access title, there are still a list of things the developer has planned for the game. Some of them seem like long-overdue features, such as match customization options. Others seem like natural things to add, such as more characters, levels, single-player scenarios, and rule cards. One of the more interesting additions would be level creation, which could give players the chance to significantly increase the number of battlefields to choose from; that would certainly eclipse other games that have tried to do similar things in the genre simply due to the expanded sharing capabilities of the PC platform.
As it currently stands, Overruled! has some work before it can be a top contender in the genre. The concept is top-notch and makes for a fun time due to its unpredictability. The actual fighting mechanics are a bit too basic, and the characters and environments lack anything to make them memorable. The developers are listening, though, and the patching rate shows that they're serious about tweaking this for the better. Expect this title to emerge from Early Access later this year.
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