Sometimes an indie game turns up out of nowhere and captures the hearts and minds of gamers the world over. This is one such game.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout landed earlier this week on PC and PS4, and quite unexpectedly and in just a few hours the game took over social media. Within 24-hours over one million players had waddled onto its servers, some of them early adopters, others just taking a punt on the latest free game to launch on PS Plus. In fact, Fall Guys has proven so popular that Mediatonic has struggled to keep servers running efficiently, and if you were to level one big criticism at the studio and its game, it would be that.
Hopefully, it's only a temporary issue and soon enough server support will be rock solid because while I spent a fair amount of time enjoying myself on both the PC and PS4 versions of the game, I also spent too long waiting to find players and, even worse, just twiddling my thumbs while we all waited for the servers to come back online. Launch week has been extremely positive in many respects, with the game far exceeding expectations, but those server issues need sorting because at the moment it's the only thing holding Fall Guys back from greatness.
That's an awfully long preamble about servers and whatnot, so let's put that to one side for now and instead focus on what Fall Guys does so brilliantly. Like so many things that capture the public interest, it's an effortlessly simple premise; 60 players, each one controlling a bean-like creature, attempt to be one of the first to get through an obstacle-covered course. If you've ever been on an inflatable assault course or watched TV shows such as Total Wipeout, then you already know what to expect.
Each bean-shaped avatar is customisable and it won't be long before you've earned enough of the in-game currency (which you can also buy with your hard-earned cash) to decorate your new buddy with quirky costumes and new colour schemes. My little guy was a mix of orange and blue and he wore a wolf head hat with pink trim. Quality nice! Who knows what he'll be wearing tomorrow, but based on the range of costumes I was up against, it looks like there are plenty of options.
While on the one hand there's a Saturday morning TV feel to the action, there's also a bit of battle royale flavour in there too. Much like Tetris 99 took the essence of BR and moved it into an entirely new arena, Fall Guys is very much a last-bean-standing affair. If you're one of the first 30-odd across the finish line in the first round you make the second, at which point a new event starts and you have to adapt your game accordingly. That formula then repeats until a winner is crowned.
The first round is always a race, although the nature of the race can change a little, with different obstacles to overcome. After that, the pool of events widens to include games where you're grabbing eggs or footballs and trying to get them in your team's corner (with the worst team of three all kicked), avoiding a rising tide of slime while attempting a more vertical assault course, or a memory game where you have to remember which tile to jump on or else you'll fall to your doom. There are a bunch of different modes but they all work to achieve the same thing, to remove a percentage of the players from the game.
It's all very silly and fun, and the secret sauce I think is that anyone can instantly pick up the game and get going as the controls are relatively simple and intuitive. Anyone who has watched a family-focused game show in the last two decades will instantly understand the format, further boosting its accessibility and general appeal. And then there's the cuteness and customisability of your character, which makes the experience more personal, with your awesome little guy set loose on bright and bold stages that really catch the eye. I also think the scale of the events, the first run in particular, also makes a huge difference as having 60 players waddling around inflatable obstacles can be utterly hilarious - that first run really sells the concept.
Much like Rocket League before it, I think the game's inclusion on PS Plus has definitely helped cement its place in the public eye. Sometimes a game can be in the right place at the right time, and this seems to be one of those games. The premise is great, the execution, aside from a few server hiccups, is very well done, and the overall design is sugary sweet and instantly welcoming. Its overall simplicity can make it feel a bit repetitive after a while, but that doesn't change the fact that Mediatonic has delivered 2020's indie darling, and once the studio has steadied the ship and improved stability, it looks to me like Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has solid foundations that can be built on for years.
8 / 10
Great concept, accessible, fun to play, lots of room to grow.
Server issues at launch are less than ideal, can start to feel a bit repetitive after a while.