Impressions: Brawlout is shaping up to be a smashing good time

Recently, we got a chance to try the closed beta of Brawlout, a new platform fighter that wears its Smash Bros. influence on its sleeve. Brawlout advertises itself as a tournament-worthy competitive platform fighter, the hardcore answer to all the problems that Smash Bros. more casual elements present for the competitive scene.

While the game is still barely finished (beta would be something of a misnomer, as certain characters don’t even have full movesets), it certainly appears as if it’s going to fulfill that promise many times over. This might just be the new platform fighter that tides us over until Smash Bros. hits the Nintendo Switch… if it ever does, that is.

Smash All Grown Up?

Brawlout was designed based on high-level Super Smash Bros. Melee play, and while it might not be apparent to the casual player, Melee veterans will notice the similarities immediately. For example, characters don’t even have a block button in Brawlout. Actually using your shield in Melee is pretty rare compared to dodging and other advanced forms of movement, so Brawlout removes it all together. Instead, your only method of defense is a dodge. Dodging on the ground allows you to spot dodge, or dodge in different directions, and dodging in the air allows you to dodge in any direction you like but removes your ability to act afterward.

Of course, dodging into the ground immediately returns you to neutral but retains your momentum from the dodge, causing you to slide on the ground in a neutral state. If that all sounded like jargon to you, let me sum it up in one word: “wavedashing.” Yes, Brawlout brings wavedashing back, and it’s more powerful than ever. Sliding around the screen has never been more fun or useful, so expect this, as well as other more advanced techniques from melee, to be core to Brawlout’s competitive strategy.

The Gameplay Experience So Far

Brawlout’s control scheme is relatively simple. You have a normal attack button, a special attack button, a jump button, a dodge button, and the analog stick. Much as you would expect, Brawlout’s normal and special attacks change based on which direction you tilt the stick when you perform them, and by pressing a direction and normal attack at the exact same time you can charge up a “smash” attack.

Unfortunately, most characters’ smashes at current time are simply carbon copies of their normals, slowed down for dramatic effect. Similarly, some characters only had one or two specials instead of the usual compliment of four. This is just a symptom of the game being in an unfinished state, however, and characters will likely get a full complement of moves at full release.

Brawlout’s normals differ greatly from Smash’s in that they are designed to be comboed together. Nearly every character in the game can rack up hefty damage in just a couple of hits by chaining the correct sequence of normals together. There’s also increased hit-stop compared to Smash, so you know when your attacks hit. This makes combo timing very easy compared to Smash’s frame perfect links.

Brawlout is also not afraid to experiment with special moves. For example, it has one character whose specials are all throws, another character who flies and zones with projectiles, and yet another character who has a Sub-Zero style ice freezing projectile that he can combo into a Donkey Kong style wind-up punch. One thing it doesn’t have, however, is neat little special move alterations. You can’t “save” a wind up punch charge by blocking (or in this case dodging), and most special moves don’t have any alternate modes of operation other than a few that charge. This, too, is something that will likely be expanded upon closer to the official release.

Designed For Competitive Play

What I like the most about Brawlout is its quality of life improvements. For example, it has a colored indicator that shows you when your character is “staggered” (i.e. cannot enter commands after a hit) and when he can act freely. This has long been something that Smash players have just had to “feel out” and it’s nice to have it clearly shown to all players. If you like your matches more traditional, however, you can always turn this indicator off… but why would you?

Brawlout’s stages are also vastly improved over Smash’s. They all present interesting layouts of platforms with interesting properties, but there are no stage hazards that could interfere with competitive play. Nothing attacks you from off screen. Nothing instantly kills you because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Along the same design philosophy, Brawlout has no items either, which could turn some people off. It would have been nice to see them attempt to balance items for tournament play, but their fundamentally random nature probably makes that impossible.

There’s one last thing about Brawlout that bears mentioning and that’s the inclusion of a traditional “super meter.” This essentially gives characters “final smash” types of moves but doesn’t tie them to an item pickup. While this promises to be an incredible twist on the Smash formula in the future, the feature wasn’t active in the closed beta so it’s hard to say whether or not it actually works.

A Promising Start, But Still Needs Work

And you can generally say that about Brawlout as a whole. It’s really cool, new, and interesting, but it’s hard to say whether or not it works. With not a single character with a full moveset, core mechanics still being added to the system, and basic game modes still left unfinished, Brawlout is barely in beta. Heck it’s barely in alpha. It’s still a prototype, but it’s a very promising prototype.

Brawlout will succeed if its developers listen to fan feedback. For example, Xbox One/360 controllers are not particularly good at mimicking the same style of control a Gamecube controller has, so more controller options- such as a “smash” shortcut, a short hop shortcut, and other quality of life improvements – will go a long way toward making the game accessible. Also, the lack of a universal throw command is troublesome and more than a few people have asked for that functionality. Listening to the fanbase and tailoring the game, not only to the professional crowd but also to the common gamer, will allow this game to go far.

However, there are any number of Smash Bros. mods that have purported to make the game “hardcore friendly,” and many of them have failed because they became too laser focused on one or two gameplay aspects. Put simply, the amount of dev work on Brawlout that has been done so far is not NEARLY enough. It needs a far more complete and robust fighting system to even stand a chance in this year’s super saturated fighting game environment. But if the developers are willing to go that extra mile I could definitely see Brawlout as a contender for EVO 2018.