Brawl Review: Strong Art Direction, Tired Gameplay

Brawl review
out of 5

Brawl is a new game from Bloober Team, who created last year’s abysmal Basement Crawl. The last game suffered from confusing story elements and relying on a tired, old gameplay design — in this case, a Bomberman clone — Basement Crawl was not a very good game, and we said so in our review.

Brawl hopes to right the ship, as Bloober Team reuses some assets from the previous game in hopes of trying to come up with a winning combination. The end result is very hit or miss.

The “twisted toys” art direction is still the best part of the package, and in Brawl, that art looks even better. The evil killer clown, terrifying baby doll/puppet, and bloody teddy bear — three of eight different characters to choose from — looks as good as the characters in the Borderland games, and even uses the same cel-shading style.

Brawl Review

But as the game gets going, that specter of “Bomberman clone” pops up again and I could’t help but feel that this isn’t actually a new game, but a polished version of Basement Crawl, or maybe “B-Crawl” or taking it even further and losing the “c” — Brawl. Hmmm. I see what they did there.

When Brawl is focusing on the maze-like puzzle elements, I really enjoyed myself. Figuring out how to get from point A to point B with limited abilities and traps around every corner was incredibly fun. But when enemies appeared — for some reason — and had to be destroyed using grid bombs, I began to lose interest.

Brawl review

I completely understand that Bloober Team is trying to bring back couch multiplayer, and are using a game that first found success on the original NES to do it, but the art style and polished production tells me that developers would be better suited to create something original. And believe me, the pieces are there. There is no doubt in my mind that Bloober Team is a talented bunch of artists. I’ve seen it, and at times in Brawl, I’ve played it. But the combat is still outdated, and it brings the project down.

Now, there may very well be groups of people who do sit around their couch and long for the days of playing a game like Bomberman, and if that is you, I highly recommend this game. This could do well in college dorms and frat houses, but for the casual gamer, there’s not much here.

Brawl has a story mode, local multiplayer, and online multiplayer, so there is ample opportunity to find someone to play with. Local multiplayer had five game modes, and online has two: arena and duel. Arena is a free-for-all deathmatch and duel is a PvP. And again, if simple, NES-inspired games are your thing, Brawl is for you.

Also, for anyone that purchased Basement Crawl, Brawl is a free download. This is a classy move by the developer after the poor reception that the prior game received at launch.

I like that Bloober Team is trying to refine their approach, and the pieces are in place for the developer to really create something twisted and memorable, but Basement Crawl definitely wasn’t it, and Brawl is only slightly better. Maybe their next project will finally be the home run they are looking for. There is too much talent here for it not to happen. Let’s just hope that the new game isn’t called BL.

Brawl is available now exclusively for the PS4 on the Playstation store for an introductory price of $14.99. Expect the price to go up $5 after the first month. This review was made possible by a review code provided by the developer.


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