When Angry Mob Games' Brawlout was first revealed to the public, it received comparisons left, right, and centre to the Super Smash Bros. series, and it's easy to see why. Now the game has landed on the Nintendo Switch, and we've been playing both at home and when we've been out and about.
Let's get the obvious point out of the way first, which is that it's incredibly close to Super Smash Bros. in style. Whether it's the percentage bar at the bottom that determines how far you're flung with each blow; the side-on action featuring a bundle of fighters; or the arenas packed with colour; to the edges you can fall from to your death, Brawlout is pretty much a spiritual successor to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U... that is, until it actually receives a successor on the Switch.
But hey, why not? Smash Bros. is popular for a reason, and if Nintendo isn't giving the fans what they want, then Brawlout tries very hard to fill that gap. The trouble is, though, that a lot of the appeal from Smash Bros. comes from the iconic characters like Mario, Jigglypuff, Marth, and so many more. Without these, it seems like Brawlout is fighting a losing battle from the beginning, as there isn't a rush to pick a classic hero in a greatest hits package.
In a sense though it's unfair to judge Brawlout by what it's not, as there are still a ton of characters in there to choose from. Chief Feathers, for instance, is a very effective and quick fighter gifted with the power of flight, while Juan Aguacate (from Guacamelee!) is a more powerful fighter with excellent grapples and short-range attacks, contrasting nicely with the chain that King Apu twirls around himself. Not all of these feel balanced, though, as Chief Feathers' flying ability is insanely useful for both dodging and keeping himself alive, and some others like Apu and Paco felt a lot more powerful than The Drifter, for instance.
If you want to unlock more of these characters, you're going to have to grind... a lot. There are two types of currency in the game - gems and coins - but the catch here is that gems are a lot harder to obtain, requiring you to complete challenges and online matches as opposed to simple offline play like arcade mode, which rewards you with coins. To unlock more stuff you'll need to invest in a piñata (which is liked the dreaded loot box), with Brawler Piñatas requiring gems to unlock characters, Fiesta Piñatas needing coins for skins, stages, and K.O. effects, and Stylish Piñatas giving taunt icons, avatar icons, and knockback trail effects for coins.
This is all well and good, but you don't amass coins or gems ridiculously quickly, and with just one item per piñata, trying to find the one you want is probably going to be a long ride. Arcade Mode, for instance (which sees you take on fighters in levels of increasing difficulty), rewards between 300 and 900 coins, while just one Fiesta Piñata costs 3,500 coins. It's worth noting that you can claim piñatas through the awards and objectives you're given in-game, like reaching level 2 with a certain character, which is a nice touch that encourages you to try new ways to play, especially since these objectives are regularly updated.
Earning gems through online play was made much harder by the fact that every match we entered was jittery and had big connection issues, reducing our brawl to more of a frame-by-frame slow-motion battle rather than the high-intensity bouts against human opponents we were hoping for. This happened in all the matches we played, which was a real shame considering the game is best when played against human opponents.
The preferred option for human interaction, then, is local multiplayer. As with all Switch games that support local multiplayer, the Joy-Cons can be detached quickly and easily to get into a fight, and since the controls are simple (one button for attack, one for special attack, one for jump, and then dodging on the bumpers), it's easy to pick up... but hard to master. It should feel pretty familiar for Smash Bros. fans, especially with the little details like being able to assign jump to the up direction, and it's easy to get engrossed in a tense battle within seconds. Rage also makes things pretty interesting, as when the meter under your character is full you can use both triggers to boost your attack power and send people flying further.
In short, Brawlout is definitely a competitor for Super Smash Bros., intentionally so given the style and format choices, but without the same variety of content and quality of content, it can't hold a candle to Nintendo's giant. It might be nice for Smash fans to pass the time with while waiting for a new entry from Nintendo, but once that comes roaring out of the gates and onto Switch we can see Brawlout gathering dust from then on.