Despite its huge popularity among casual fans and hardcore tournament goers alike, Smash Bros. has rarely been imitated. Outside of the underwhelming PlayStation All-Stars, I’m unaware of any other titles attempting to take Smash’s amazing blend of lightning fast, yet accessible gameplay and well known and liked characters, and put their own spin on it. Enter Brawlout. From first glance, it’s clearly apparent where Angry Mob looked for inspiration. If you’ve ever played any Smash title, you will be right at home here. One button for each standard and special attack combined with the 4 directional inputs is the limit of your arsenal.
Bumpers allow a dodge, which when timed right, can put you in an advantageous position and, once your rage meter is filled, allows a temporary power up allowing you extra damage to send opponents flying. Damage is tracked via a percentage, the higher it is, the easier it is to knock players off the stage thus scoring a point. Using combo of jump, dodge and up+special gives knocked players a chance to get back in to the action, often clawing back in by the skin of their teeth. Charging attacks give them extra oomph too, sending players hurtling off screen at a blinding speed once the damage counter is high enough.
The problem is, whereas Smash uses these mechanics as a solid base for what is a much deeper game than it first appears, Brawlout kinda just stops at this point. The basic gameplay is fine, and with some friends it is more than capable of keeping the interest for a while, but I soon found I was just yearning for more. There are no item pick-ups in the game, which I know some purists will be happy with, but it just highlights how basic your limited move set is. Even if they didn’t reach the crazy screen filling kind that Smash can produce, something to mix up the flow of rounds would not have gone amiss.
Stages feel a little on the small side too, it being far too easy to accidentally roll off the edge in the heat of the action. Characters seem unbalanced too; out of the small roster on offer, a couple clearly stand out, due to their range and damage easily outclassing others. Speaking of which, the character designs are nothing really of note. While no game could really offer up the diversity on offer in Smash, they just feel a little underwhelming. All are based on animals, and there are some light customization in the way of unlockable accessories or palette swaps, but I can’t see many people having a stand out favorite.
Some recognizable characters from other games do appear (Juan from Guacamelee and Yooka-Layle) and it would have amazing to feature more 3rd party cameos, but understandably this is likely a licencing nightmare. But, in my eyes the biggest flaw with Brawlout is the simple fact that it feels very bare bones in terms of things to do. Single player features an old school arcade ladder climb, just working up through several stages with some light dialogue at the beginning of rounds. There are 3 of these; easy, medium and hard but much like the unbalanced characters, the difficulty going from easy to even medium is unreal.
Easy features several 1v1 fights against AI, some of which can be quite testing due to the aforementioned character balance. Medium ups not only the difficulty, but now forces you against 2 AI at once. A 30 second delay gives you a slight advantage before the second fighter enters, but once they’re in, it’s game over. I’m no pro by any means, but getting double teamed, damage going from 0 to knockout in mere seconds is very trying. Hard pits you against 3 AI and, well, I promptly stopped there. Online fares somehow worse. For a 4-player fighter, it’s almost unbelievable that you are limited to 1v1 for both casual and ranked, which is unlocked by getting at least four fighters up to level 3 by playing either online or offline.
I appreciate that you can still play offline while an online game is being looked for though. Good thing too, as my last attempt to find a ranked game lasted over 11 minutes before I had to stop. Setting up a lobby with friends allows four players, though you cannot fill the empty spaces with randoms. Again though, your sole option for play is either stock or time limit. Offline MP features a party mode, where different objectives will augment play such as holding a championship for X amount of time or collecting most coins. These are exactly the kind of modes that bring out the best in the game, with the added stipulation supplementing the gameplay in fun ways. But these are not available for online play at all.
Popular games get liberally borrowed from all the time, yet Smash Bros. seems to have avoided this somehow. Brawlout takes on this challenge, but its lack of modes, iffy character balance and poor online offerings, all fail to inspire that same spark that Mario and friends have mastered so well. The basic gameplay is OK, but without the same love, spectacle and reverence to lean on, it all falls flat.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.