Brawlout is much more than a "Smash Bros. clone," but it's not for everyone. What you get out of this game will depend largely upon your expectations going in, but as someone who tinkered with the PC version in the days of its early access youth, I'm impressed by what Brawlout has become. Nintendo Switch fans who are looking for a full-blown Super Smash Bros. experience are going to feel short-changed, but the rest of you are in for a delightful platform-fighter that deserves to be seen as more than just a stopgap on the way to the next Smash.
I ended up enjoying Brawlout quite a lot, but I think it's worth starting off with a few my gripes, which I think will help put this game into perspective. We can begin with the roster and stage selection, which are both fairly limited. After the addition of Juan from Guacamelee, our roster is composed of eight colorful brawlers.
Each character is unique in his or her style, speed, and moveset, but at times I did find myself wishing there were a few more toons to choose from. Likewise, until you level up your brawlers to considerable milestones, you'll only have three stages to choose from when setting up local matches. This, in my opinion, was a big mistake considering how long it will take you to raise each fighter to the level necessary to unlock their respective battle stage. You will, however, get to play on those stages in the single-player arcade modes.
In action, Brawlout feels very different from Smash Bros. While some changes are neither good nor bad, simply different, some differences stick out as rough edges. Characters often feel "floaty" and light, and at times that lack of weight robs big hits of their gratification. Several of the recovery specials (the Up + B moves) also feel anemic and wimpy. Smash always felt sharp, snappy, and grounded, and that's what a lot of the Smash faithful are going to be looking for when they download Brawlout.
The biggest change for those coming from Smash to Brawlout is the fact that there is no blocking, and no grabbing. Your bumpers and triggers will initiate stationary or mobile dodges, and air dodges. There's no "popping a bubble" and absorbing blows in Brawlout -- you either eat the hit or you dodge out of the way. This, along with the fact that you cannot grab nearby opponents, means that Brawlout is a much more kinetic affair. Players will always be moving; always be attacking; always be dodging. Certain characters do have grab attacks allocated to the special attack button, but even those are fairly tame.
Personally, I enjoy this style of play. It's how I played Smash anyway; always zipping, jumping, and dodging. I'm a shameless scrub, so I honestly can't tell you how competitive players will adapt to Brawlout's approach. It forces you to play aggressively, but matches can still drag due to the fact that players in close range will be dodging almost constantly. That may change at higher levels of play, but at the moment, online matches remain acrobatic games of tag.
What I found I missed the most coming from Smash to Brawlout was a more area-effective Down+A attack. In Smash, pretty much every character has a Down+A that visible sweeps or strikes out around them, providing a quick and offensive push outward when you're surrounded. Most of the Down+A attacks in Brawlout strike straight down or in one direction, and while the hit-boxes are pretty generous, during crowded fights it rarely feels advantageous to be in the middle of a crowd. It seems, at least to me, like you have to commit to striking in one direction or another, which means fewer firework blows that send opponents flying in all directions.
Those are some pretty bratty nitpicks, though, and when it comes down to it, I really do believe that you get more than your money's worth with Brawlout. This game is 20 dollars, and I've been coming back to it consistently in the week it's been on my Switch. It's perfect for when you want to wake up your Switch and rock through a quick and dirty bout with a few AI opponents. Alternatively, I found it just as gratifying to plow my way through the arcade ladder with a few different fighters to rank them up, amass some in-game currency, and see their story endings. All of the characters have their own little story arcs that play out through the arcade mode, which is more than you get with some full-priced AAA titles.
And here's another thing: in the main menu, you'll notice a section on the far right labeled "store." As soon as I saw this I rolled my eyes and prepared for all of the nickel and dime loot box trickery we've grown woefully used to. Sure enough, I loaded up the store and there they were: multiple tiers of "Pinatas" which contain new character clones, character skins, knockout effects, avatar customizations, and more. In order to unlock the Pinatas you'll have to use one of two types of in-game currency you earn by playing. But here's the kicker:
You can't spend real-world money on unlockables. I looked everywhere, and there's no option to log onto the eShop and spend money on in-game currency or Pinatas. I thought that I was just missing the option, and so I reached out to the developer. Brawlout's Creative Director Bogdan Iliesiu confirmed that there are no microtransactions in the game, and they're not planning on adding any. All of the unlockables (and there are a lot) are there to add replay value to the game, and give players additional objectives.
I can't tell you how encouraged I was to see that. What's more, Iliesiu confirmed that additional content was on the way, and that an ambitious first patch is humming down the conveyor belt which will add some new mini-games to make unlocking these extras more fun. Iliesiu also confirmed that the patch would address some minor frame-stuttering, which I encountered with some consistency during matches against the AI.
I was only able to connect to a handful of online matches while I had the game. I was always reaching out during odd hours of the night, and considering the game had yet to launch, servers were expectedly quiet. The matches I did play were smooth, and I only had one connection issue while playing. At the moment, it looks like your only options for playing online are 1-on-1 battles with strangers, or connecting with friends to play up to 4-player matches.
When it's all said and done, I think Brawlout is a fantastic little game, and it's only going to get better. It's not a knockout Smash Bros. clone, but it wasn't trying to be. Don't come to Brawlout expecting Smash. Instead, open up to the experience Angry Mob is offering you, and I think you'll find it's something worth sharing with your friends. In the spirit of Smash, grab a few buddies, gather 'round the couch, and see who can come out on top of a 4-player free-for-all. Hell, you can even use Game Cube controllers if you want to (assuming you have the Wii U GC controller adapter). I think you'll find the laughter and curse words will flow just like old times, and you'll be losing yourself in the mayhem.
It's affordable, it's highly polished, there's plenty to unlock, and most importantly, it's fun. Give it a shot, and maybe I'll see you online. My Apu has a welcoming present for ya.
WWG's Score: 4 /5