Review: Speed Brawl
A stylish combination of time trials and combat that only trips up due to its blistering pace.
If you’ve played one beat-em-up, you’ve played them all – said no one ever. Most brawlers released over the years have had the nuance to separate themselves from the pack, for better or for worse. The most beloved of these set the bar for the rest and usually include tons of enemies all crammed on the screen with the player characters tossing them around like it’s nothing. Players move through the level repeating this pattern as they work their way to the boss just so they can do the same to his ugly mug. Speed Brawl knows and understands this winning formula perfectly, but challenges the idea of whether you can do all of that on a clock.
Developed by Double Stallion Games and published by Kongregate, Speed Brawl is the next attempt at throwing a curveball to all the brawler fans out there by turning every obstacle in the game into a time trial. While this addition sets the precedent for what to expect throughout your time playing, the caveat to all of this is the mechanics tied to it. The game initially makes this easy, with tight controls, but layers on character-unique mechanics including gear and synergy with other characters on a tag-team, making the approaches to any mission incredibly varied.
But that’s not the first thing that you’ll notice about this game – it’s the art and music. Double Stallion really went out of their way to make sure that this game was both beautifully animated and instantly recognizable. This is perfectly encapsulated in Titmouse Inc.’s intro animation for the game, an action-packed and stylish example of the game I played right after watching. I later caught myself redoing missions just to see specific enemies and environments in action again, rather than simply for the mission rewards and gear my characters wear in battle.
This ties into how the game itself operates. In coordination with the art, the world of Speed Brawl carries almost as much love and attention. As you progress through the main story of the game, you’ll fill up your in-game codex with profiles for each brawler that joins your lineup, descriptions of each of the 68 different enemies you’ll trample over and even the 200+ pieces of gear you can equip in-game, all tying in cleanly to the game’s story.
The Story Mode follows Ebba and her best friend/bodyguard, Bia, as the two run headlong into the many leagues of Speed Brawl, a high-octane sport created in a dystopian Great Britain as a way to placate the masses after a war with insect-like aliens called Selenites. The game delivers this exposition in bits and pieces through your codex, as well as a clean visual-novel style. Quippy back-and-forth dialogue with a colorful cast of characters before and after each mission in the game is how you get to know where you are and who you’re dealing with, sometimes as window dressing for when you’re about to get royally whooped by a challenge you weren’t really prepared for.
In fact, that may be the only real failing of Speed Brawl. When you face a challenge you can’t handle just yet, the pace slows to a crawl. The mechanics of the game are all based around speed and levels are meticulously laid out with ways for you to maintain your momentum. One of the core concepts of the game is “the faster you move, the more damage you deal,” and this holds true across all playable characters on top of each of their unique mechanics. If you can’t maintain the required pace for a mission, then you’ll find yourself going back to grind through prior missions for better gear or just re-running a mission over-and-over until you can wrap your head around the best approach you can take with your style of play. While the game’s loop encourages replaying each level to improve your run-time, it’s these walls that the game erected itself that hold it back from being more than just a good game with its pedal to the floor.
If you like a fast-paced challenge and stylish, explosive action, try jumping into Speed Brawl. If you find yourself taken for a ride, roll with it and you may find yourself lost in its world.
Speed Brawl is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and on PC through Steam.