One of the most positive elements to come out of the growth of the independent games development scene is the way in which fresh voices are able to take on old concepts. Plenty of small studios have been able to reinvigorate tired genres with fresh mechanics, resulting in such phenomenal games as modern classic Into the Breach. The next game to attempt this kind of bold genre shift is Speed Brawl.
The project, from developer Double Stallion, describes itself as a 2D combat racer. Although this isn't entirely accurate to the way that game functions, the influences are clear for all to see, with nods towards side-scrolling brawlers such as Double Dragon or Streets of Rage alongside more fast-paced platforming like Strider and Rocket Knight Adventures.
Beyond that, Speed Brawl is all wrapped up in a tidy, time trial-esque package, although those racing elements might not shine through as clearly as the beat 'em up sections. Nonetheless, the game's emphasis on beat 'em up combat is a nice return, as though Streets of Rage 4 is on the way, the speedier elements of the nineties brawler haven't had a good outing in a fairly long time bar Guacamelee.
To make things better, the combat itself in Speed Brawl is also good fun. Players will combine special and normal attacks with swift dodging mechanics as they traverse the different stages and competitions, all in the name of bloodsport. Things aren't complex by any means, but it's good enough to make gamers think on their feet when trying to maintain their speed through the levels. Meanwhile, Speed Brawl's boss battles are also worth the time, always challenging to fight even if there's nothing entirely new.
Perhaps more impressive than the gameplay is the title's art style. Speed Brawl is a gorgeous game, with wonderful character models for both the varied and constantly growing choice of player characters and enemies, and the game's animation is smooth enough to give its anime style an authenticity that users will appreciate. Although some of the backgrounds might feel a little barren, that's easily offset by the detail put into the way the characters move and feel.
Thankfully, this emphasis on character models helps bring Speed Brawl's world to life. The game shows players an alternative version of Britain, albeit a very different one from the likes of Another Sight or Not Tonight. Speed Brawl's plot revolves around an 1880s Britain following the successful defeat of an insect-like Lunar race called the Selenites, and the growth of a new sport called Speed Brawl. The player is one of the contestants in this vicious game, but everything feels more like American Gladiators than The Hunger Games, with a much more chipper tone.
Unfortunately, not everything works in Speed Brawl. Indeed, a large problem with the game is intrinsically tied to the game's core mechanic of speed. The central focus of the title is to clear waves of enemies as quickly as possible to make it to the end point of each race, and this reliance on going fast means that the title is effectively on time attack mode constantly, but there is sometimes a clash between this and its combat mechanics.
Quite simply, constantly having a timer running means that the game's learning curve can be tough. Players may reach moments in the game where hitting the title's time limits can be quite tricky, and each race ends if the player runs out of time overall. This means that players are sometimes left with the option to either keep honing until they scrape through time-wise, or go back and grind elsewhere for better items or money to spend in the game's shops.
Although grinding or slowly building up new items isn't always a bad thing, in a game that is primarily about speed it can lead to some major friction. Unfortunately, this is a problem that's intrinsic to the way Speed Brawl functions, and as such it's quite hard to ignore. Nonetheless, if players can overlook this element of the game, or perhaps have a little more patience for getting up to full speed, then there's still plenty of fun to be found here.
Speed Brawl releases September 18 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a PC code for the purposes of this review.