Devolver Digital has a knack for publishing some games with frankly ridiculous concepts, be it Pigeon dating, Miami Vice-inspired brutality or homicidal politicians, it’s built up an eclectic stable of interesting indie titles. 2D shooter Broforce is the latest through the gate and it’s a suitably eccentric homage to coin op shooters and 80’s action movie heroes. Oh, and there’s a lot of use of the term ‘bro’.
In the first ten minutes of Broforce the game averages a good two ‘bro’ puns per minute. Whilst this is amusing for a while (including bro’d up names such as a Bruce Willis-inspired Bro Hard), it does feel a bit excessive, but I suppose that was the point: Broforce is a celebration of action movie and arcade excess after all. It does recede after a while mercifully, and takes nothing away from the game itself.
The basic objective of any given level in Broforce is fairly simple. Take a ride in your helicopter to get to the level, then rescue hostages while raining death and destruction down upon the bad guys and ride off into the sky to the thrashing guitar rock that makes up the victory theme. You start off as a randomly-selected Bro from the starting pool, and each time you rescue a prisoner you turn into a different Bro. Each character has their own weapon and special so you go from machine guns and grenades to swords and daggers and so on throughout each level, losing a life (provided you have spare ones in reserve) sees you back at the last checkpoint (a triumphantly-hoisted American flag) as a different Bro again. Once you rescued a set number of prisoners, you’ll unlock a new character to join your roster, all inspired by those famous movie icons of yesteryear.
Truly it is a joy to see what comes next in this ‘spot the movie reference’ carousel, as the ensemble includes unsubtle nods to the onscreen heroic personas of stars like Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone, Harrison Ford, Keanu, Kurt Russell and beyond. The pot luck nature of which character you’ll be next keeps things interesting and means you sometimes have to make tactical changes on the fly, mostly though, it’s just incredibly groan-inducing and not so secretly pleasing to see how Broforce manages to shoehorn ‘bro’ into movie character names.
The pixelart carnage that Broforce serves up visually really is in keeping with that late 80’s theme, it’s an audio-visual package that practically grows it’s own mullet, it’s so over the top and testosterone-fuelled. From its throaty announcer to its hair metal soundtrack to its brightly-colored explosion and gore-filled art style, Broforce is as much a love letter to an exuberant era of cinema as it is a pastiche of it, and is all the better for it. Everything ties into the overarching concept beautifully.
The way Broforce plays is most in debt to games such as Metal Slug (in a massive way) and Contra. Run and gun combat with a touch of platforming. Generally speaking, you can dictate the pace you play at, chipping away at enemy forces, using objects in the levels to take them out en masse so you can preserve your lives. Of course the best way to play Broforce, and the way that’s most encouraged given the completion time stat that pops up at the end of each level, is at full tilt with lightning fast reflexes required to murder reams of enemy fodder at a time. This is when Broforce is at its finest in terms of pure challenge and enjoyment, but it does visibly struggle at times when too much is going on at once. A shame really, as it’s a glorious sight to see when it holds up.
There could be a danger of repetition given the fairly straightforward level design and setup, and things do occasionally get a little samey, but much is done to ensure Broforce captures your attention and keeps a firm grip on it. The constantly changing roster is obviously an important factor in freshness, as I alluded to before, but occasionally the game throws special challenge levels at you to test your mettle should you so wish. In these, you have one life to complete the level and no survivors to rescue and obtain extra lives from. Careful planning is easy enough in the early stages that crop up, but things get suitably sweaty later as the screen fills with things out to smear your carcass into the ground like a meaty jam. They are optional, but definitely worth checking out if the campaign proper is feeling a bit too easy peasy for you. Especially as they give you some extra perks in regular levels, such as ammo packs, should you complete them.
The other facet of Broforce that gives it some legs is the 4-player co-op. What is already chaotic fun alone becomes a gleeful mess of insanity when other people are added to the macho mix. Some of the same slowdown issues of the singleplayer portion pop up again here too sadly, except here it’s joined by some horrendous lag as the game randomly freezes regardless of internet connection speed. That’s a big problem with so many moving images on screen at once, as it can lead to some frustratingly unfair deaths. Also, you best be prepared to argue with your friends, Broforce does that most wonderful of tricks by starting small-scale warfare in your living room over who screwed over who. That’s a positive by the way, good co-op experiences should do exactly this to you, otherwise you’re just screaming at strangers online and there’s more than enough of that bollocks going around already.
It’s unfortunate that Broforce suffers some technical issues as it really does a lot to prevent a good game becoming a great one. When everything clicks, Broforce is a murderous symphony of perfectly orchestrated destruction, but on those occasions where the game falters, the music stops for a moment, leaving you to lament the silence of disappointment. Then it blares into life once more and all is right in Broforce’s freedom-fightin’ world again.