Mayhem Brawler

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Hero Concept
Release Date: Aug. 18, 2021


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PC Review - 'Mayhem Brawler'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 9, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Mayhem Brawler is an urban fantasy-themed beat-'em-up that brings back the '90s arcade vibe to the present day.

The beat-'em-up has gotten a good number of entries over the last two years. Fans of the genre have a good number of titles to sink their teeth into for both solo and co-op play, such as Going Under to River City Girls to Streets of Rage 4. Turkish company Hero Concept has thrown its entry into the mix with Mayhem Brawler, and the result is intriguing.

In Mayhem Brawler, you play the role of one of the three most popular cops assigned to Stronghold, the city's highest law enforcement agency. At the start of your shift, you get a call regarding a disturbance at the docks. What seems routine at first quickly uncovers something big, and the trio goes all over the city to save it from doom.

What makes the story interesting is its world, where people, mutants and other creatures exist in harmony. It's common to see vampires and lycanthropes milling about. Fighting off were-crocs and street sorcerers is normal, as is getting information out of djinns after defeating them in combat. It also helps that your trio consists of someone with extendable claws, a mutant that looks like a more muscular version of Killer Croc, and the daughter of a superhero with powers of her own. There's plenty to dig into, and despite the presence of comic book cut scenes and social media feeds to flesh things out, you still yearn for more background about the world.

Mayhem Brawler is standard beat-'em-up fare for up to three players via local co-op only, but the lack of online play is alleviated on the PC thanks to things like Steam Remote Play and Parsec. Each character has different stats, so there are the usual categories like all-around fighter, the speedy one, and the big bruiser, and they tend to have the expected moves. One button is used for jumping, there's a regular attack and a special one, and you can dash in either direction. Some objects in the world are breakable, like tire stacks and crates, and they reveal weapons and healing items. Knocking down foes can also liberate them of their weapons — but only when they die.

That lack of back-and-forth with weapons is one example of the changes to an otherwise normal fighting system. For one thing, you can't pick up weapons or items by standing over them and hitting the attack button. There's a dedicated button for picking up objects — even breakable oil drums, if your character is strong enough. That breaks with tradition, but it also lessens the frustration factor by ensuring that you aren't picking up the wrong thing at the wrong time. Genre veterans will no doubt recall how many times they had to avoid a healing item on the ground during a fight lest they blow the opportunity to heal when they need it the most. That's gone now, as you can use the entire environment to fight without worrying about wasting a healing item or accidentally swapping between weapons.

In a recent patch, Mayhem Brawler added air moves to the arsenal, lending it an air of anime fighting games. You can air-dash and juggle enemies in the air, and you can keep them there by jumping and initiating mid-air combos. While you'll still fight normal people, the special ones tend to add new twists that you're not going to find in many other brawlers. Vampires can grab you for health refills, while street mages can conjure weapons out of thin air. Others teleport away instead of hitting the ground, so you can't easily press the attack button after they fall. None of these enemies are too difficult to handle but, like the new air movement, it keeps things interesting.

The game also features something that is usually absent from brawlers: blocking. With the press of a button, you can manually block enemy attacks, and that's usually good for anything besides gunfire and grabs. You can get out of grabs by using a special attack, and while you'd usually avoid doing that in other beat-'em-ups due to the health penalty, you're encouraged to do that here since you have a separate super move meter. Much like a regular fighting game, that meter builds whenever you land attacks, and it can also be replenished with items, so there's more of a reason for the player to mix it into their attack arsenal.

There's another addition that initially seems curious but ends up being useful: status indicators. As you're fighting, you and opponents get indicators placed above them to show things like broken defenses, health and stamina refills, or if something is too heavy to lift. In practice, it doesn't affect the gameplay much, but it gives the illusion of depth by showing off these things front and center.

The result of these changes (and a few more!) is a fighting system that is more welcoming to newcomers and veterans alike. There's more freedom to use your best moves, since you know it won't harm you as much as in other games. The minimized weapon integrity means a focus on your own moves, and juggling makes the fights more enjoyable when others are in tow. If you want to make things tougher, you can turn on friendly fire, and that makes a huge difference since the playfield isn't as large as it is in other brawlers.

That highlights one of the game's shortcomings, and that's the lack of overall difficulty. Part of this can be attributed to how powerful you are despite fighting off vampires and werewolves and heavily armed humans. Double- or triple-teaming a boss makes the fights easier than they should be, since they can also be juggled, and the stages don't feel like they take too long to traverse. The game also gives you back health and lives at the beginning of each stage, so if you were down to a sliver of health and your last life by the end of the third level, you'll be topped off by the start of level four. For those who want some challenge, you'll need to play at higher difficulty levels because on Normal difficulty, you can complete the game without having to save the campaign.

Going through a run of seven levels shouldn't take more than an hour and a half on the default difficulty, especially if you're playing with the full squad, and that makes Mayhem Brawler a relatively short game for those who tend to drop a game after seeing the end credits. The game has more content in the way of branching pathways; this leads to different levels being played and one of three possible endings, so completionists can squeeze more time out of this title. Beating the game once unlocks Arcade mode, where you go through the entire campaign on just one credit, but you still have access to the four difficulty levels to make it a breeze.

Like the gameplay, the presentation is quite fetching. In a way, the graphics emulate the style of Streets of Rage 4 with some heavy black lines and color choices. The animations might not be as smooth as that title, but they're still excellent, while the backgrounds provide a tremendous amount of detail and feature familiar environments like a sewer system and more unorthodox ones, like a talk show set and a public park in the middle of the day. On the audio side, the rock music fits well with each fight, but don't expect any earworms. The voice acting is good, even if it some of the lines sound a touch awkward.

There's plenty to like about Mayhem Brawler. The setting is unique among games in the genre, and the mechanics work well with the combat system thanks to its fluidity and diversity. The main campaign may be short and the unlockables list consists of one mode, but the three different endings and multiple campaign branches mean that there's more content to this game than originally believed. You'll have to rely on local friends for this one, but there's an absolutely good time to be had.

Score: 8.0/10

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