Smash Bros. is weird. Nintendo’s fighting mashup drew the masses in with the promise of seeing what would happen if Yoshi were to get really upset with Kirby. Hardcore fans developed a splinter scene, where ultra-competitive players stripped the game to its essence – no items, Final Destination only, thank you very much – squeezing every last drop of strategic gameplay from the cutesy title. The series has yet to come to the Nintendo Switch, and in that absence, Angry Mob Games has brought its platform fighter Brawlout over from Steam Early Access. It caters to the serious Smash fans, but without the charm, variety, or recognizable characters.
If you’ve played Smash, you have a solid idea of what to expect. After picking your character, you beat the snot out of your friends or A.I. opponents until they fly or fall outside the boundaries of the stage. The more damage you do, the farther they get knocked back by your attacks. You can choose between timed matches or play until you deplete a stock number of lives. That’s about it; aside from a single-player challenge tower where you fight your way through a variety of regular matches, you don’t have other options to explore.
Brawlout suffers from an overall lack of content, starting with its roster. When you start the game, you can choose between eight characters, including guests from Guacamelee and Hyper Light Drifter. They’re not outright clones, but I recognized familiar Smash archetypes, with analogs to Donkey Kong’s grab and Pikachu’s lightning attack, among others. That’s not to say they’re bereft of originality; Paco, a four-armed Luchador frog, is a goofy character with a prehensile tongue that he can use to whip himself back onto the stage from long distances. The walrus Olaf can freeze enemies and also summon ice platforms to get a boost when he’s knocked away from stable ground. Aside from a handful of standout moves, however, Brawlout’s cast as a whole is inoffensively generic.
The stages are equally bland, with few animated elements or personality. They’re just backdrops featuring things like totem poles and ice floes. Unlocking more than the initial three is tedious, because you need to level-grind characters to master rank 10. The results aren’t especially rewarding, much like the rest of the unlocks. To get new characters, you need to buy piñatas with gems and coins earned through gameplay. If you want to unlock a specific character, good luck! The rewards are randomized. They’re all essentially new skins, with subtle gameplay tweaks. You can unlock Senator Feathers, for example, who is basically Chief Feathers with a stars-and-stripes-themed top hat. Considering the hurdles you have to jump over to unlock the new content, it’s a disappointment.
You don’t have items to use against your foes or a final smash counterpart, but a meter builds up as you battle. You can unleash it when it’s halfway filled to break enemy combos, or wait until it’s completely filled to become a slightly super-powered version of your character. That aspect of the game never really clicked with me; it is a nice addition, but I would gladly trade it for the ability to block. You can roll out of danger, but the timing window is frustratingly small, particularly when you’re trying to avoid projectiles.
Locally, you can play with up to four of your friends. When you take the game online, things falls even further apart. I was never able to play with people on my friends list. The game simply timed out repeatedly. After trying for about half an hour, I was able to play a 1 v. 1 match against a random opponent, but it was so laggy that it was virtually unplayable. In short, if you can’t get your friends together in the same room – and playing against other people is a priority – Brawlout is a non-starter.
Brawlout probably isn’t for most Smash fans, including me. It simply can’t compete in terms of roster size, interesting characters, and overall personality. All of those things are critically important. Gating what little it has to offer behind a slow-drip progression feed is a mistake, too. Players who don’t have the time or patience to unlock everything can console themselves with the knowledge that they aren’t missing out on much.