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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Xaviant
Developer: Blue Mammoth Games
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Preview - 'Brawlhalla'

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 13, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Brawlhalla is an epic free-to-play platform fighting game that brings players to the fight for glory in the halls of Valhalla.

For the PC gamer who has no interest in other gaming platforms, there are a number of modern games that mimic Nintendo classics without resorting to emulation. A number of platforming games can match up to most Super Mario titles, adventures inspired by The Legend of Zelda can be found, and there are quite a few titles that have their own take on the Metroid, Mario Kart, and even Mario Party. Super Smash Bros., however, doesn't seem to have any contemporaries on the PC yet. Gang Beasts and Towerfall Ascension have the adversarial four-player combat down, but they don't provide the kind of fighting found in Nintendo's mascot-infused title. Brawlhalla is an attempt by Blue Mammoth Games to get close to Nintendo's fighting game mechanics. We took a look at the title, which is currently in closed beta.

The core mechanics mimic the Nintendo title quite well. Each fighter has a small array of light and strong basic moves, each differing depending on the pressed button and which of the four cardinal directions is used. Taking on damage determines how far you'll fly when you get hit, and those who take the most damage fly the furthest. Kills are only accounted for once a character falls or flies off-screen, and the fallen fighter comes back shortly with a small window of invincibility.

There are a few changes that actually make the fighting a little more sophisticated beyond simple button-mashing. For starters, you're given a triple-jump instead of a double-jump, and doing a wall cling resets the jump count, drastically reducing the likelihood of failing to try and save yourself from a fall. Each fighter has visible stats for things like speed and damage protection, taking the guesswork out of whether a fighter is inherently fast or strong.

Perhaps the biggest change is the constant presence of weapons inherent to each character. Picking up the generic flaming sword from the battlefield gives you access to two of six weapons, including hammers, pistols, swords and so forth. As with the basic attacks, you have a variety of moves at your disposal once you pick up a weapon, and those weapons are unlimited until they're knocked away or you throw them away. Another nice touch is that you can essentially catch weapons before they disappear. Get close to an enemy, and you can toss your spear at them and catch it once it hits them, opening up the strategy a tad more.

The result is a very fun fighting game that doesn't stray too far from the formula. It relies more on spacing and getting in good hits as opposed to pulling off guaranteed kills with ultra moves. The permanence of weapons comes with enough plusses and drawbacks that it adds to each character's fighting potential, even if some would rather go to combat without weapon. Characters are also different enough, so people can find their favorites. None feels particularly weak or underpowered, so the game feels balanced.

Since Brawlhalla is still in beta, there are a few things we hope will be addressed as it marches toward a final release. The HUD does too good of a job of not obscuring gameplay. The indicators that let you know how likely you'll fly when you're hit are tucked away in a corner and don't give you an opportunity to see your status unless you don't focus on the fighting for a bit. The stages are nicely designed, but the game could use more of them, especially if they feature more exotic designs. Also, the weapon selection beyond your character's own stuff is lacking. You have a horn that can call in a flaming robot, a land mine and a spiked ball, but that's about it. A wider variety of weapons would do wonders to expand the craziness that can happen in a game like this.

In its current state, there are a few modes included with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer. Both local and online multiplayer can be played with a set timer or with a finite stock, along with a few other customizable options. Online play is quite solid during gameplay with no lag or drops, but there were times during match searches where the connection to the network would drop for no reason. You can choose to watch matches if you don't want to fight, and you can set up private matches, but both require you to give numerical codes for others to participate. The single-player mode is a tournament that only lasts for three stages, so it feels like a glorified training mode for online play. It works fine but doesn't provide a substantial solo experience.

Graphically, the game has a very animated look. This is especially true of the characters who have a style similar to Awesomenauts, with the bright colors and medium-sized black lines defining their features. The animations are done well, and the flourishes are nice (e.g., smoke coming from a player's death). The backgrounds are the only place where the game could use some work. With the exception of the few bots floating in the background, each stage looks rather static. Moving clouds or an animated crowd would do wonders to give the stages some energy.

Sound-wise, the game is well off. The music matches the levels well, with an epic score accompanying each level. The effects are solid, and they pack some punch when the hits make contact. Voices are minimal when it comes to the characters, but the announcer is loud enough, even though he isn't exactly booming. Like other parts of the game, the small number of stages means that the variety in sounds isn't there, but what's here at the moment is good enough.

What makes Brawlhalla intriguing is that it is planned to be released as a free-to-play title once it drops its beta moniker. There's already an active store available where you can buy different skins and weapons for characters, and there's also a section where you can pick up new characters, though that's currently locked. What'll be interesting is how much of the content will be given to players once the game officially launches and whether the developers will follow a League of Legends style system, where a small rotating cast of fighters is available at a time, or whether there is a fixed set of free characters for the life of the game.

Brawlhalla shows players that the Super Smash Bros. formula doesn't always need popular characters to work. The fighting is solid, and the addition of more permanent weapons gives the game some depth that few would expect. The characters and stages are varied enough, though more locales and more weapons couldn't hurt. It's a very good fighting game that has the potential to become even better in the coming months.

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