A Love Letter
I owned a Nintendo 64 back in the day and missed the initial craze that was Masahiro Sakurai’s Super Smash Bros. Now that I own a Switch, I’m pretty picky about games I buy these days. So, when I saw Brawlhalla, developed by Blue Mammoth Games, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience what everyone loved about Super Smash Bros. without spending $60. My journey toward playing Smash-inspired fighters has been 21 years in the making. But through Brawlhalla, I see why people have such love for what HAL Laboratory did so long ago.
The game borrows a few key details that link the two titles together, at least the basic idea and rules. Hopping into a match, you’ll immediately notice all the empty space, with a few platforms to stand on. You’ve just entered the realm of a platform fighting game. The goal: knock your opponent off said platform and into the blast zone, the boundary of the stage where you can die. Sounds easy, right? That’s easier said than done.
Familiar, Fresh, Goofy and Addicting
In traditional fighting games, depleting someone’s health is the way to go; ring outs typically aren’t a factor. Not so with Brawlhalla. Dishing out damage makes your opponent increasingly susceptible to force. The more damage they’ve taken, the further back they’ll get knocked back when hit with attacks. But there’s a little catch: everyone has a triple-jump and seemingly infinite number of wall-jumps. Should you manage to knock someone off the stage, your opponent can time their jumps right and make it back to fight again. It’s crucial you damage your opponents as much as possible. In doing so, a single heavy attack can send them flying so far back, they’re immediately KO’ed.
That kind of combination makes Brawlhalla so addicting, the kind of gameplay loop that makes your hands sweat. It creates moments where you fake your opponent out by waiting at the edge, timing your attacks just right to ground-pound them off the wall and into the abyss. What helps keep this loop in check is controller support. The touchscreen controls are fine, but since Brawhalla has cross-platform play, you’re better off picking up a controller or else you’ll immediately feel the disadvantage against PC and console players.
Combos aren’t a huge concern, and neither is playstyle. Flailing your arms around is a death sentence in Super Smash Bros. In the case of Brawlhalla, you can frantically move about, strategize, or adopt guerilla tactics like I did, striking here and there before retreating. Then Brawlhalla litters the stage with items, from weapons to one-use gadgets. Toss bouncy bombs, spiked balls, and use a horn to summon a sidekick. Every legend has two weapons at their disposal. Picking one up will choose one of two, at random. Weapons and items can cause some serious damage, especially heavy weapons. Chances are you’ll always have a weapon on you, so use them!
Healthier Business Model
For a mobile game, I was surprised by the healthy business model used. The game itself is free, a common decision with freemium titles. There’s microtransactions—a trait I tend to vehemently oppose—but they’re integrated like League of Legends. Every legend can be obtained through playing the game, winning coins, and buying them straight out.
Since new players are lacking legends, you’ll have access to a handful of legends to play, on a weekly rotation. Even better, Practice Mode unlocks all characters, giving you a great opportunity to find one you like and strive for. And if you want, you can toss $20 at the developers and have every character unlocked. Additionally, skins and taunts can be bought with Mammoth Coins, Brawlhalla’s premium currency, which are entirely cosmetic.
It would’ve been nice to earn a few skins by performing specific tasks, like reaching the highest ranking or earning a certain number of knockouts. Earning coins is a slow crawl, only tempting players further to simply buy every legend with cash. Daily missions help, but they’re a drop in the bucket. Glory can be earned for playing ranked matches, but the cosmetic rewards are far and few between.
Fun For Everyone
Blue Mammoth Games took a beloved formula and provided the best way to introduce yourself to the Super Smash Bros. phenomenon. Brawlhalla is so much fun packed into a small game, with tight controls to compliment. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and just about anyone can enjoy. You don’t need a Nintendo Switch or $60—just your smartphone, and maybe a few friends. It’s a near perfect port, minus some necessary updates to controller support.
Is it Hardcore?
Brawlhalla wears its inspirations on its sleeve, without coloring inside the lines. Its goofy art style is pleasing to the eyes, and the gameplay loop is top-notch. Best of all: it isn’t pay-to-win.