PSX 2016 – Brawlhalla Preview – Free-to-Brawl (PS4)
As a pretty huge fan of Smash Bros. (although I am a firm believer that the game is best played with items turned on), I always get excited when I see a new platform brawler. There have been some pretty solid ones in the past couple years (such as Rivals of Aether and Sony’s own PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale), but none have really been able to top of the king of the genre for me. There’s something about Smash Bros.’ chaotic nature, and the mixture of recognizable characters, that helps it stand above the competition.
While the Xbox One has the very good Rivals of Aether, PlayStation 4 owners don’t have many options when it comes to platform fighters, but that’s going to change in 2017. That’s thanks to developer Blue Mammoth Games, who have given their own spin on the genre called Brawlhalla. The most intriguing part of the title is that it’s actually free-to-play (and if that pops a warning sign for you, scroll down to the section about monetization below), but before I get into that I’ll discuss how it actually plays.
Everybody Was Platform Fighting
If you’ve played Super Smash Bros. then you should know the basics here, but I’ll explain for those that haven’t played. The goal in Brawlhalla is to knock other players off of the playfield by either sending them to any edge of the screen. This is one key element that Sony’s platform fighter lacked, and it was really hurt by the omission. Players also pick up item spawns, that consist of weapons (more on that later) and throwable objects called gadgets (such as a bomb).
The major thing that separates Brawlhalla from its competition is that it’s a weapon-focused title. Players can still fight unarmed, but picking up weapons will boost their attack and alter their core group of moves. Each of the game’s 20+ fighters can use two types of weapons, and that’ll be one of the main reasons to choose different characters. For example, you wouldn’t want to use the mobster Cross if you didn’t like ranged combat as he can use guns. There are nine separate weapon types in the game, and mastering each will separate the good from the best.
I ended up playing two time-based matches against three other players, and I had a really great time. Despite the unique weapon system, the game was instantly accessible to me and my Smash Bros. skills transferred over quite nicely. I was dodging enemy attacks, charging up attacks to really fling foes across the screen, and found some success. Both of the matches were filled with frantic fun, and ended up going into a sudden death period (since players had earned the same amount of kills). I ended up losing the first match, but triumphantly rose above the rest on the second go around.
A big question for a lot of gamers when it comes to Brawlhalla will be what sort of monetization options the game has, and thankfully it’s nothing egregious here. In fact, I’d go as far to say they are overly generous since it’s easy to not spend any money at all (although with all free-to-play games, you should spend a few dollars if you do enjoy the game). The game will come with six characters unlocked (who exactly is available changes on a weekly rotation similar to League of Legends), and players can unlock new characters for free using in-game gold they earn. If they don’t want to wait, or just want to support the developer’s efforts, they can spend $19.99 to unlock all of the characters (including any future ones).
There are no pay-to-win elements here, so laying down money won’t give you an advantage like in Clash Royale. This is still a skill-oriented game, and Blue Mammoth Games has the right mindset going forward. I was also told that skins will be sold going forward, but they plan to keep microtransactions down to just optional cosmetic items. This is a free-to-play title done right, so hopefully it won’t be ignored just because players don’t have to cough up $19.99 from the very beginning.
I had a thoroughly good time playing a few matches of Brawlhalla and am eager to play more of once it releases in 2017. While I’m not sure if it tops Super Smash Bros. (the lack of recognizable characters does hurt its appeal), the good news is that it really doesn’t have to. The PS4 doesn’t have many options in the genre, and the game can fill that niche while also having zero barriers to entry due to being available for free. It’s definitely a title that I’ll be telling my buddies to download, and it should help make my online PS4 gaming sessions even more enjoyable.