After the rather critical hammering that last year’s Bomberman-inspired Basement Crawl received, Polish developer Bloober Team has elected to go back to the drawing board and in doing so has overhauled just about every aspect of the game, resulting in Brawl being the game that they should have made in the first place. Although far from the evocative, grimdark take on the classic arcade bomber template that it believes itself to be, Brawl nevertheless brings enough to the table to allow it to stand on its merits as an entertaining party game in its own right.
One of the biggest complaints that levelled against Basement Crawl was that the lack of any sort of tutorial made it extremely difficult to understand just what the fudge was going on. Here however, Bloober Team has its bases covered with an extensive tutorial masquerading as a fully-flavoured, single-player campaign.
Pointedly, the single-player story mode is where Brawl attempts to make the most out of its darkly horrid setting as it introduces players to a grim cast of murderous clowns and steroid ravaged female pro wrestlers. In all fairness, and this was pretty much the case with Basement Crawl before it, the whole bleak serial killer atmosphere just feels ridiculously hammy and falls really quite flat. Aside from the fact that the stories of these characters are largely uninteresting, it doesn’t help that the narrator is so horrendously over the top that the whole thing just ends up skewing towards the comical rather than the disturbing.
Away from the presentation of the story mode, another element of it that grates a little is the difficulty, especially in regards to how inconsistent it is. Some levels are fairly straightforward and relatively challenging but when it comes to the boss fights, of which there are many and usually entail some sort of spin on the Bomberman deathmatch battle, the AI suddenly morphs into a top-tier, tournament level player and absolutely *refuses* to be grazed by any of your attacks. To say this sort of bi-polar difficulty curve is frustrating would be somewhat of a chronic understatement.
Still, tonal and learning curve missteps aside there are other reasons to get stuck into Brawl’s single-player campaign. Chief among these is that not only does it do a grand job of familiarising folks with the controls and various bomb enhancing power-ups, but it also allows players to unlock an extended roster of characters, too.
Pleasingly, each of the characters aren’t just cosmetically different from one another but they actually possess a variety of different abilities. From freeze bombs to stun attacks and teleportation spells, the extra abilities actually add a nice bit of spice to the proceedings and never serve to break or otherwise hinder the balance of the bomb throwing action.
As befits its rigid clinging onto the Bomberman template, Brawl is best enjoyed with friends and really, this is easily where the bulk of its appeal lies. From trapping players with bombs to trapping yourself with own bombs and just about every sort of ill-conceived attempt to win in between, Brawl does a good job of balancing fast-paced, frenetic action with the sort of laughs that are synonymous with this sort of fast paced arcade gameplay.
One minor issue however, is that the controls themselves feel just half a step less responsive than the arcade classic from which Brawl derives its core concept. While it certainly doesn’t affect the game in any sort of considerable capacity, the marginal drop in smooth character articulation will certainly not go unnoticed by folks who have experienced Bomberman’s ultra-responsive controls in the past.
Elsewhere, while players have access to the usual proven, free-for-all deathmatch modes where the object is to blow up the opposition while collecting power-ups, it’s not all a straight-laced, carbon copy of the Hudson Soft classic.
Indeed, somewhat commendably, developer Bloober Team has made strides to expand upon the original template by introducing a number of additional modes that meaningfully compliment the standard offering. In addition to endless wave style horde modes and a smattering of variations on the versus theme, newer game types such as Colour Domination where players have to stain the map in their colour by using paint bombs, add an extra dimension to the proceedings beyond the normal deathmatch modes that most will be familiar with.
Further bolstering the experience are the maps themselves. While erring towards the visually drab, they nonetheless tend to be liberally stuffed with all sorts of hazards that serve to ratchet up the comedy factor in any given contest. From kicking players down some pits to a variety of other traps to look out for, the environments of Brawl are as much a participants in the bomb-throwing mayhem as the players themselves.
Clearly, the difference between Brawl and Basement Crawl is night and day, still despite this, Bloober Team’s latest could still do with a little extra polish. From rockets that hit a wall and don’t explode but merely just disappear, to occasionally juddery cut-scenes and audio that sometimes cuts out unexpectedly, it’s fair to say that a little extra time in the oven wouldn’t have hurt.
In the end, it’s abundantly obvious that Brawl is the game that Bloober Team intended to craft in the first place with Basement Crawl. A decent enough take on the Bomberman template, while Brawl might require more polish, have daft horror overtones and possess an uneven single-player campaign, the core of the game remains steadfastly entertaining enough that it should find itself a solid niche in the ever-growing rotation of party-friendly PlayStation 4 titles.