Brawlhalla seems to have a lot of factors working against it. It’s heavily inspired by Super Smash Bros. and no one but Nintendo has been able to pull off the platformer fighter genre as successfully. Brawlhalla is also an almost entirely online multiplayer game with just a couple offline modes, and of course, Brawlhalla is free-to-play with microtransactions galore. Against all odds though Brawlhalla is fantastically fun.
Brawlhalla was developed by Blue Mammoth Games, which was acquired by Ubisoft in early 2018. The game first released (in its final form) on PC and PlayStation 4 in late 2017 and just recently came to Nintendo Switch and Xbox One - notably less than a month before Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s release. For every other console that doesn't have an imminent genre-leading competitor Brawlhalla is a gift as it's the best Smash Bros. clone ever, and a solid fighting game on its own right.
It is undeniable that Brawlhalla owes a lot to a large debt to Super Smash Bros. and its not to be confused with the other similarly titled recent indie Smash-inspired game, Brawlout. While Brawlhalla centers around four cartoon heroes, usually in free for all matches, it does have its own identity and mechanics. Brawlhalla takes Smash as a base and builds off of it. One key difference is that each fighter gets not one, but two weapon styles.
Brawlhalla has simple controls. There’s a button for jumping with two others for light and heavy attacks but fights do get slightly complicated when the weapons enter the picture. There are around 10 weapon types and each of the 42 current fighters (called Legends) have access to a couple each. Some characters are strictly ranged, having access to pistols and bows like the "monster hunter" Diana. Then there’s a Legend like the orc-like Xull who has a large axe and even bigger battering ram for close up attacks. It’s a simple set-up that adds a surprisingly special feel to Brawlhalla.
Admittedly there’s not much variety between Legends. Brawhalla finds ways to mix each of the 10 weapon types into gratifying combinations with a few fighters having their own flair to their moves. Ultimately, no matter the weapon type(s) there is a familiarity to the fighters. For example, playing as the scythe-wielding Mirage isn’t all that different from using than spear-toting Kaya. Other fighting games have more complexity on this front but Brawlhalla strikes a middle balance between pick-and-play and real in-depth mechanics, and it does a lot with a little.
The simple character designs are hardly noticeable because the fighting mechanics are tremendously satisfying. Brawlhalla’s game modes are split evenly between timed matches, where the Legend who gets the most eliminations by hitting opponents off-screen is the winner, and stock matches, where the winner is the last Legend left standing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ranked online match, a casual one or which Legends are selected, fighting is a blast in Brawlhalla. Successful contact always has a nice heft to it, the characters move and control in way that feels appropriate to their design (i.e. a larger character with have less upward mobility) and there’s always something happening on-screen, bolstered by vibrant art.
Brawlhalla is funded microtransactions, and it handles these much better than games that have a price tag attached to them. Still it can’t help but feel like Brawlhalla would have been a better overall package as a full-priced game.
The main way that Brawlhalla is monetized is with the characters. Every week a new selection of Brawlhalla Legends become available for free but in order to permanently unlock a character they must be purchased with Brawlhalla’s in-game currency, gold. It'll take a reasonably long time to unlock a Brawlhalla character with gold earned in-game but it definitely is possible. Gold is rewarded for completing matches, challenges or just daily log-ins. There is an option to unlock all current and future legends for $19.99 and that is a very appealing aspect, especially since Ubisoft’s Rayman is the latest new fighter. The price is totally fair for the package.
There are also Mammoth Coins and those are a tad bit annoying. Mammoth Coins can’t be earned in-game and are only available through real money purchases. Luckily Mammoth Coins mostly purchase cosmetic items like new skins for characters. There are few optional stages thrown in but Mammoth Coins are just for making character look "better." It is a shame that there’s not any other way to earn cosmetics in Brawlhalla besides real-life money.
Brawlhalla may not steal the crown from Smash Bros. as the best platformer fighter in its current form but if Brawlhalla gets a full-priced sequel (which it should!), Smash should look out. For those searching to find a Smash replacement with simple ambitions or just looking for a fun fighting game, Brawlhalla is worth checking out.
Brawlhalla is available now for free on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Steam. We reviewed the Xbox One version.