I’ve taken issue with the term “Smash clone” for a good while. Developers should be able to delve into genres that have very few games to their name, like party brawlers or MOBAs, and advance the medium or create their own distinct thing.
Brawlout is very clearly influenced by Smash, even more than a lot of other competitors over the years (RIP PlayStation All-Stars), but it also does a decent job of crafting its own identity.
Brawlout (PC, Switch [reviewed])
Developer: Angry Mob Games
Publisher: Angry Mob Games
Release: December 19, 2017
Rolling, an in-place dodge, normal attack (which can be charged to knock people out of the arena) and special attack buttons — stop me if you’re heard this before. It’s all in Smash right? Well, Brawlout does bear a striking resemblance at first glance, but it also has a few key deviations. There’s no shields/true blocking, for one, and there’s no standard “grab” available to everyone. Characters can also employ a metered rage mechanic in an all or nothing fashion, or divvy out meter as a deflection. All of this is taught by a welcome tutorial mode, and that’s before you factor in the varying movesets for each character.
It’s enough. Brawlout moves at a quick pace, especially at lower levels of play because you don’t have people blocking constantly — it’s way easier to punish folks if they aren’t employing their dodge frames correctly. The lack of landing lag also helps locomotion feel fluid, whether you’re bouncing around the arena or are coming back from the edge. A lack of items is fine with me, but a lot of folks who hate the mentality of pure brawling are going to want something weird to mix things up.
The roster, which is mostly comprised of “cute but tough” animals that feel right out out of a ’90s cartoon, are unique. There’s a Yeti boxer who can create his own platforms, A bird chieftain who can fly around in almost any direction, and guest characters like Juan feel like they were ripped directly out of the source material. Out of the box you’re getting eight non-clone characters in all.
Which leads me to the biggest issue I have with Brawlout — content. Note how I used the phrase “eight characters outside of clones.” Well, not only are there a heap of those, but most of them are locked up and relegated to a “loot piñata” system. Wait, loot boxes?! In a brawling party fighting game?! Say it isn’t so! It isn’t, actually. Kinda.
Right now Angry Mob Games have not implemented any paid monetization systems into the game. Which means you cannot buy new costumes, characters, or level variants that are gated behind this system. However, the rate at which they’re unlocked is painfully slow. Some are even linked to the “mastery” of each character, meaning, you have to play them a ton to get items for them.
It’s an obvious idea and one that many other genres implement (MOBAs), but fighting games typically encourage free exploration of playstyles, and grinding up someone I don’t like just to get a cool costume for them isn’t really something I’m willing to do. It’s weird, because so many fun looking things are locked behind a confusing storefront that makes me not want to even engage with it. I don’t think we have to settle for “at least it doesn’t have microtransactions” (that switch could easily be flipped in the future) when a brand new fighter is hamstrung right out of the gate, and all extras could just as easily be unlocked by simple objectives rather than hide some behind piñatas.
I totally get why this indie project might not be bursting with content at launch. They’ve spent months collecting data, smoothing out each and every move and matchup, listening to their community and pros in the process. I witnessed them in-person at Smash Con in fact, carefully notating potential balance changes from semi-pro Smash players who had been involved in testing sessions for hours on end.
But the fact remains I wish there was more to do both from a solo perspective and from a “party” unlock angle. There is no real campaign (nor are there ancillary modes like Home-Run Contest), it’s more of a challenge tower from Mortal Kombat, with varying degrees of difficulty that all blend together. If you’re keen you can play online or locally, the latter of which really rocks when you’re rocking a Switch.
Brawlout is positioning itself as the sort of indie Smash, especially with its addition of Hyper Light Drifter and Juan into the mix. With proper post-launch support, and most importantly, an audience, it could grow and fill that Bowser-sized hole that Smash Wii U left. Until then it’ll serve as a fun party game that could be a little more.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]