In the long absence of a follow-up from Nintendo, what’s a platform-fighting fan to do?
The Nintendo Switch console has recently hit its first anniversary, and it completed a year on the market without any confirmation that we’d be seeing either a port of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, or an all-new entry in the Smash series on Nintendo’s current platform. By all appearances, Smash 4 looked to be following in the footsteps of its Melee predecessor: locked onto an outdated piece of hardware… until March 8th’s Nintendo Direct teased that there will indeed be some version of Smash heading to the Switch this year.
Of course, being stuck on the old GameCube (or original Wii console, as an alternative) has done little to deter the Super Smash Bros. Melee community — if not the opposite, as loyalty to their title is still strong enough to warrant a place on the Evo main stage alongside its sequel. And it’s unlikely it will have any real impact on Smash 4, either — except that Smash players have been stuck in a limbo of waiting to see when (or even if) Nintendo would offer an updated alternative. The new announcement of a move to the Switch platform will now shake things up a great deal — but until we know for sure exactly what Smash on Switch will look like, Smash 4 still ensures that Wii U consoles stay in the living room — and at tournament stations.
Meanwhile, just as imitation of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior spawned a myriad of games in the ’90s — kicking off the fighting game genre and giving us many classic games and new franchises that still stand today — platform fighters have risen to offer alternatives to Smash. While Rivals of Aether was first out of the gate to make a significant impression, and has started to earn a regular side spot at Smash-related events, others have not grabbed quite as much interest yet; among these, Brawlout is the first to land on a Nintendo system.
Brawlout, as a follow-up to the Super Smash Bros. platform fighter style, is a promising title; we were provided a test copy of the Switch version to try out, and you can immediately see a lot of care and creativity went into this game. It’s got a vibrant visual style that immediately grabs you, and its overall design and menu layout looks fresh and inviting. The overall sound design is also great (but there is an issue there, more on that later).
Once you get into the gameplay, the game will immediately feel completely familiar to anyone that’s picked up a Smash title before: the basic controls and game mechanics are lifted almost verbatim from Nintendo’s template, with a notable exception in the removal of shielding, replaced instead by a dodge. There’s no guarding in Brawlout, which definitely gives the gameplay an ever-so-slightly more frenetic edge. Like its spiritual predecessors, you can play with up to four fighters on screen at once — it seems like the character models are zoomed-out more than necessary, though. They perpetually seem rather small.
There is a fairly robust selection of gameplay modes — basically your usual variation of the online/offline options we’ve seen before. The game uses a quasi-lootbox system in which gameplay earns you in-game currency to unlock new characters, stages, etc. In these areas, Brawlout does just fine — it also has a good tutorial mode for beginners, and gets some extra points from me for even including a hitbox viewer in its training mode. (We did have a recurring problem with the software crashing, however — enough that it warrants mention as something that needs to be addressed.) It plays well on-the-go as well, with a variety of potential control configurations available, whether you’re playing on the Switch itself, or docked.
The character selection gets a little more interesting — the cartoony style is unsurprising for this type of game, it seems to suit the genre. And the visual character design is excellent — providing a variety of animal-themed fighters to choose from, all with very distinct looks, with lots of style and attention to detail put into their models. In terms of gameplay, they each have some variation to their attacks, adding some flavor to this brawl. While the game plays well, and is certainly oozing with visual personality, the characters fall extremely flat in the audio department — you don’t realize how much the voice acting adds to a fighter until it’s gone, and there is no voicework for the Brawlout characters mid-fight. With the only audio reduced to the generic sounds of pummeling and punching, without any vocal output from the characters themselves, it feels very empty. It seems like these character designs are being sabotaged by the absence of this crucial component.
And that’s a big deal, because when you’re competing for attention against Smash, personality goes a long way. Smash is a franchise that stands on the pillars of Nintendo’s own long-beloved characters (and many loved/hated guests from other publishers, of course). The draw of those characters will be the sole attraction for many casual players, before the gameplay is even a consideration. Brawlout‘s strangely silent warriors, despite a lot of great design and a solid gameplay base, can’t compete with Mario or Pikachu, or Sonic or Cloud.
This is really too bad, because there’s a fun game to be had here, maybe even a competitive future. But Angry Mob Games has their work cut out to drag consistent attention and dedication away from its target market… and now that Nintendo has revealed its own official return to the ring, Brawlout‘s time in the Switch limelight is drawing shorter. I still recommend any fans of the burgeoning platform fighter genre give this game a look. A lot of love has clearly gone into it, and it still is receiving support in the form of bug fixes and new modes. We’ll have to see if the audience that it’s accumulated during its run on Switch so far will stick with it in the long run.
Additional source: Angry Mob Games (YouTube)