The emporium is watching, as well as the many messed up characters and villains in Bloober Team's BRAWL for the Switch. This classic bomb battle inspired blowup is quite a different take on a regular bomb party such as Bomberman, especially in mood and strategy. Many creepy stories and ideas are featured here and lots of modes to fully stretch out every bit of the explosive moments possible. With all of this potential at hand, will it bloom into our hearts? This originally was a sequel to Basement Crawl and it was released on the PS4 and PC a few years back and has now been ported over to the Switch. It's a spooky arcade-like boomer and it certainly proves to be something of a unique clone for sure.
The story of BRAWL involves the many characters of the game going around a creepy emporium for their own odd reasons (most of them wanting revenge of some sort) which end up putting them through many trials. The characters range from generic horror characters such as a devastated clown who couldn't make anyone laugh, to some slightly more original ones such as a blind psychic girl who lost her family and will do anything to see them again. The game tells the stories of these characters through many different campaigns, one for each of the eight characters. These campaigns contain some really cool cinematics and some pretty humorous dialogue which was told from an ominous dark voice in the emporium.
My main problem with the stories in this game is there are many horror cliches which make it feel very generic, and with all of the characters, the plot can also feel very disjointed instead of clever. It's also worth noting that I found quite a few spelling errors in the subtitles but these were small and for sure didn't take away from the experience. Other than these though, the story cutscenes and dialogue were well written and this horror arcade adventure's narrative was alright though generic and uninspiring.
After playing BRAWL for a bit you can clearly notice that it is a very similar game to the likes of Bomberman, but with some strategic twists with different characters and abilities. This game takes the main mechanics of the Bomberman series of placing bombs and collecting powerups to destroy your foes (and trying not to get exploded yourself), while also having a decent amount of characters with special abilities. The game controls are pretty regular, with the d-pad or analogue stick moving your character in grid-based maps, and the face buttons allowing you to place bombs, use your specials, and use your ultra, which is a very powerful move you get limited use with. The controls were a bit stiff and clunky a lot of the time which can be quite annoying but for the most part, they were at least responsive enough to do the job.
The said inclusions of the unique special abilities for each character adds a bit of a unique layer of strategy to the formula. These abilities were simple attacks such as a sneeze to launch the bomb across the map and to confuse enemies and a knife you can use which can teleport you to where it lands. These were neat and changed the gameplay minorly although I felt they could have been developed further into something even more complex as these abilities ultimately didn't affect the gameplay that heavily to be that innovative.
The maps in this game were what you would expect from a game in this style with many pillars and crates spread out across a square based map with the crates having to be blown up or have an ability used to get rid of them. The landscapes in the actual story campaign were a lot more unique and diverse with many sections and hallways with diverse layouts, but for the other modes, they were mostly very plain. In the levels/matches, the plenty of powerups scattered across will upgrade your character and give you things such as health boosts or ultra boosts to help build up your ultra meter. As for the maps themselves, other than the environments, they were very similar and didn't have much to offer in terms of variety with pretty much all of the multiplayer maps being basic rectangles.
There are many different game types, ranging from the story mode to the local multiplayer modes and wave modes. In the story mode, each character has their own campaign in which you can choose and play through and each is also complete with their own stories and cutscenes. There are quite a few difficulty options ranging from low to ultra. The levels in the campaign are usually fairly short but contain quite a few cool environments throughout the emporium. There are all sorts of types of levels from wave battles, to segmented sections and boss battles, the variety from level to level was much appreciated. Playing through all of the campaigns can get rather dull though as all of the campaigns can be very similar and get repetitive. Overall the story mode actually wasn't too bad and was often quite cinematic and immersive. The AI battles in the story mode could be pretty annoying at times though, especially with some frequent bugs.
This game also has a tutorial mode where you can just get a basic understanding of a characters moves and techniques without playing the story campaigns. There are even some videos explaining some of the more advanced moves you can pull off with each character.
As for the local multiplayer modes, there are about six different game types you can play with 1-4 people locally or with AI players. Most of the types are your regular Bomberman like battles where you can use your bombing skills against your foes in either a 4 player free-for-all or a 1-on-1 duel. There is even a classic mode where you can get even closer to the regular Bomberman style gameplay. Along with these standard types, there are also a few special ones such as Sumo and Color Domination where you have to do irregular things like shoving opponents off of the map or place bombs to have a colour turf war of sorts. Most of the multiplayer modes didn't feel fully realized and with the samey gameplay, they could get old quickly.
The last set of game types are some special challenge types such as a mode where you survive through as many waves of enemies as you can, and even a mode where you have to defend sheep for as long as you can. These weren't anything too special but were decent arcade-like additions that can be played with a friend.
BRAWL houses tons of bonus content whether that be in the form of unlockable models or achievements, there are quite a few things for you to unlock. It's not much of an incentive to keep playing but it's nice to know there's some backend to this game.
Furthering some of the frustrations are the glitches that pop up quite frequently. I've had all sorts of glitches happen from graphical annoyances to getting stuck in a block. It's quite annoying and it's clear that this game could have benefitted from more polishing.
Visuals and Audio
The visual style of Brawl is an interesting dark take on the cel-shaded style that doesn't look too bad. Sadly in handheld mode, things can look very mushy but on the TV it looks a lot cleaner. The main problem I have with the art style is that the game is quite dark and everything blends in, so it can be quite hard to see what's going on closely (especially in handheld mode) as a lot of the on-screen players and objects meld together with the similar colours. The colours under players and the option for big head mode helps you to see what's going on better but the blending issue remains. I understand it's supposed to be apart of the theme but some more variety and a sharper and more eye-catching colour scheme would have been a lot easier to work with. The visual effects also weren't very special but they at least got the job done. The characters themselves are probably one of the better things about the game but even then they are mostly pretty established horror cliches these days and none really struck a chord. Even things like the menus and UI in this game felt quite amateur and some of the animations could be smoother although the models aren't too bad.
As for sound design, I found the soundtrack to be especially forgettable. The songs were mostly spooky takes on things like the circus theme for the clown and other similar light ominous and scary music pieces that were stale and generic. For the actual sound effects, a muffled explosion sound is the best you get here. The voice acting was pretty high quality and full of humour but the sound effects were disappointingly lacking and cheap.
BRAWL tries really hard to bring something new to the bomb blasting formula but for the most part, just ends up being a scarily average clone. There's a lot wrong with BRAWL but if you can get past that, this is an alright affordable alternative to Bomberman with an interesting theme and minor gameplay twists. While the story in this game suffers from many cliches and the game can feel terribly uninspiring and glitchy, the voice acting and art style help make up for this and make this explosive mess somewhat bearable.
If you're interested in a different alternative to something like Super Bomberman R to shake things up, BRAWL might be worth a look for you, but otherwise, you'd probably rather be blown up than play this.
|+ Strategic mechanics||– Many horror cliches|
|+ Decent voicework and cinematics||– Barebones multiplayer which gets boring fast|
|+ Quite a bit of content|
– Stiff controls and uninspiring gameplay
– Frequent glitches and errors