Throughout the years, I’ve played a lot of side scrolling beat-em-ups. Most revolve around clearing a screen before plodding along to the next etc etc. Speed Brawl takes this concept and literally runs with it. It’s all about keeping your momentum up to increase damage and beat the clock, though on occasion you’ll be ground to a halt somewhat abruptly. Set in an alternate history sometime in the late 1800s, you compete in a spectator sport known as Speed Brawl. The aim of the game is simple; don’t stop moving and defeat whatever is put in front of you.
The quicker you do it, the better your score and rewards. Each stage is broken up into a few different sections, with each section being on a timer. Once cleared, time is added to the clock and off you go to the next. Its breathless pace is refreshing for sure; you’re never more than a few seconds away from a fight. Once in said fight it’s all about maintaining your momentum. Attacks are stronger the more you move, even bigger foes will crumble to you in mere seconds if you can get the rhythm right. Various items are dotted about to help too.
Swinging on a vertical pole allows you to quickly change directions and give you a much needed boost. Likewise, walls can be rebounded off or even run up in order to keep you on the go. Throw in a special attack and when it’s all going swimmingly you feel invincible. You’ll need all the help you can get too, as the enemies put up a decent, if basic, fight. The sheer numbers that assault you at once fill the screen at times, from dozens of tiny hatchlings to creatures that take over half the stage.
While individually, nothing really poses a problem, once you have projectiles firing, enemies charging and environmental traps all to contend with at once, it’s here that some cracks start to show. Maintaining your momentum for any length of time is supremely hard. Using the charge attack will bring you back up quickly, but it will more often than not disappear just as easily. This has the knock-on affect of dragging out encounters; when you have not only a time to beat but a count-down timer also, it can be frustrating to constantly be slowed down with no clear way of getting back into the groove.
Several stages are split in to several sections too. On more than one occasion, I reached the end of the levels only to be met with a barrage of attacks with no hope of beating the timer, necessitating a complete restart. Of course, my finely honed gaming skills didn’t help, and levels are quick by nature, but a full replay slows the game down the most. The game offers you multiple characters to choose from, though they all handle in pretty much the same fashion. In a rather brilliant move, you choose two to take with you, switching in and out at the press of a button.
They can also be called in to help in a pinch, using their super move before jumping out. Smart play will switch between them regularly utilizing the speed boost that comes with it. Health will recharge while out and knocked down characters are revived by, what else, sprinting over them. Completing challenges offers various upgrades (which can also be sold and purchased at the in-game shops) granting even more speed, power or various other buffs. It’s well worth taking a few minutes to arrange the loadouts, even if the menu can feel a tad cluttered.
The core loop here is great fun, constantly testing you, pushing you to go further, faster. Between character switching, loadouts and fast, the responsive controls in Speed Brawl gives skilled players all the tools it can reasonably allow. Nailing a level and hearing the cheer of the crowd egging you on, encourages you to push the limits even more. Zipping around the levels sees flashes of color and light keeping you focused on where you are most of the time. Sometimes things can get a tad too hectic, and it’s here where things slow down.
Certain events are themed, one being to build up a combo of a certain length to proceed. One hit will undo a combo as you might expect; even early stages throw so many enemies at you in order to allow you to keep the combo going that I found myself getting overwhelmed and unable to string even a few hits together. I found this happening in regular stages too. Getting a decent rank should be a challenge, of course. Feeling like you literally can’t do anything about it at times is the opposite end of the spectrum.
Speed Brawl is a fun and inventive take on the side scrolling beat-em-up. Encouraging fast combat by design, skillful play will see competent players likely performing amazing looking feats. Sometimes though, the game just takes the wind out of your sails, leaving you plodding along and scraping by for any chance to get going again.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.