Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: Brawl [Nintendo Switch eShop]

One of the initial launch titles for the Switch was one I had high hopes for. I’ve been a fan of Bomberman ever since the SNES days playing it with friends on my Multitap so with great anticipation I purchased Super Bomberman R, hoping it would recapture some of those classic feels. Unfortunately, it initially did a number of things wrong and it was a disappointment, though they’ve since been trying to make amends. When I saw the first video of Brawl that left me with high hopes, that there would finally be a great Bomberman-style party game on Switch, and at a Nindie-fied more budget price. Unfortunately, while it has some merits Brawl has for the most part managed to have a lot of style but it doesn’t back that up with nearly as much substance.

Instead of simply playing as a palette-swapped clones of one another Brawl attempts to give itself some personality. Dipping into the Twisted Metal vaults and maybe sprinkling in a little bit of random nightmare juice Brawl has a menagerie of creepy characters. There’s the weirdo clown, the living mannequin, the blind girl with a knife-wielding teddy bear… I’ll give credit for effort, though for the most part these are concepts you’ve seen before. In the single-player Story mode you’ll have the opportunity to essentially take each one for a spin, getting to hear a little bit of back story on them care of a suitably creepy narrator. Each as their own special abilities that you’ll very quickly be walked through and then forced to use in order to survive and advance. At the conclusion of each story you’ll then be pitted against one of the other characters. While conceptually this isn’t a bad idea for the most part I found it played out a bit tedious and perhaps a bit unnecessarily hard. In some cases there were elements I found a bit random and confusing, just in general I found myself waiting for it to be over.

Undoubtedly multiplayer is where the game is meant to shine and it does fare better than single-player but that isn’t to say there aren’t issues. A hat tip to the developers for having the sense to include a Classic mode that generally eliminates the complication of people concerning themselves with the individual character abilities, generally aping the Bomberman formula more directly. There are variations with Sumo and Color Splash modes but while they hold up for a few rounds neither inspired a great deal of interest from the family. If you’re feeling that something more cooperative could be your speed you can always tackle the Challenge modes with a friend, with both Horde and Sheep modes. These again add some variety and strengthen the package, but they’re only as good as the foundation they’re built on allows.

That’s where the more grim end of things comes into play. Stutters and slowdowns became pretty commonplace during our group play session, generally during the worst times when play was getting more intense with a fair number of bombs on the screen. Much as was the case in the early days with Super Bomberman R these performance issues can be brutal when you’re trying to be precise to place your bombs or quickly get behind a wall to avoid a blast and this really took a lot of steam out of the game experience quickly. Bear in mind, as well, that this is a local multiplayer affair only, though given the performance issues already online would have liken been foolish to tackle anyway. Depending on the map there were also issues on some of them with clear visibility due to the theming. While I can appreciate the desire to create a certain mood when it ends up interfering a bit with people clearly understanding what’s going on at all times that also tends to stink.

In the end Brawl isn’t necessarily a bad game, it’s just a hodge podge of ideas that individually may work but somehow when they’re mashed together it doesn’t seem to congeal. There’s obviously been effort to inject some personality into things but at the same time what makes each character distinct ends up detracting a bit from the ease of handing someone a controller and having some fun. With the voice work it’s also obvious that the single-player story mode had some investment but the glorified tutorials with somewhat bland play and wonky AI failed to leave a very positive impression. Just from top to bottom the overall effort plays out as pretty average, though its stuttering periodic performance issues make it more difficult to redeem.

Score: 6

  • Has most of the components that should make it interesting and successful
  • A variety of competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes
  • An assortment of characters, each with distinct abilities, that for the right group could help keep multiplayer more interesting

  • While they’re sporadic the stutters in multiplayer can really take the air out of things quickly
  • For all of the effort invested in the various characters and skills for the most part my family and I stuck with the Classic mode mostly that removed them
  • Local multiplayer only