“Heck, what a nice idea”. If I had a dime for each time I start an indie game review with this specific thought, I’d probably have enough money to buy a Ferrari. And indeed, Speed Brawl is a nice idea.
At some point, if you ever played Smash Bros. (and, subsequently Subspace Emissary) in your life, we all thought how it would be nice if there was an adventure/beat-em-up game of sorts focused entirely on Smash mechanics. The thing is our minds have this tendency, of sorts, to fantasize things way better that they could ever be.
I hope you don’t get the wrong idea here: Speed Brawl is an honest, well-tailored platform/beat-em-up hybrid with Smash Bros. layers and shades all over the place, but it fails (not miserably, though) at the most important aspect: the mechanics.
First of all, the game is very beautiful-looking. Although the character themselves are bland, that fact is compensated by the art direction. I’m pretty fond of those strong outlines and shadows ─ and they work pretty well with the cartoony art style. The whole game feels like a Saturday Morning Cartoon, actually. So much that its opening is fully animated, with a theme song and all!
The story is pretty basic and the setting, a full on steampunk thematic world in which people compete punching other people (and sometimes aliens from the Moon) as they run through a deadly obstacle course while other people watch (hence the name Speed Brawl), works incredibly well and you should not take it seriously because the game doesn’t. The visual novel dialogue system, which is standard nowadays, is when the narrative flows. Good pacing, simple dialogues ─ some with full voice acting, some with just small words and grunts, both well-done ─ and a somewhat lovable cast of playable and non-playble characters. But again, don’t expect narrative depth, intricate character relations and interactions because it’s the simplicity of those things that makes things flow in a good way here.
In terms of gameplay, the fares well, all in all. It has a simple objective: race, straight, from point A to point D, while stopping at points B and C to brawl and smash your way through people (and aliens) like previously mentioned. The simple control schemes transforms this game into an ‘easy-to-pick up’ (that should be transformed into a category) game. You don’t need to memorize framedata and all that stuff. Just mash the hell out of the buttons in a almost-organized fashion and there you go: fun is guaranteed!
Also, it’s a tag-team game. If you’re alone, pick up two characters and tag in or tag out seamlessly; call your parter in for a support attack and, why not a cross over hell? Needless to say: Multiplayer hell is also guaranteed here.
“So, why that subheading?”, you ask. Well, there was a little something that turned me off instantly:
The ludicrous decision of forcing players to deal with input lag simillar to online games to “ensure your online and offline play ‘feels’ the same” (official words, people) is so shortsighted that I don’t even know where to start. Yeah, you could get used to that ─ I got ─ but it took a while and, frankly, that completely transformed the game into a unbearable experience. Sure, it’s got some good RPG elements, like the leveling system which delivers a solid and nice sense of progression as you unlock perks and upgrades for the characters and there’s the loot-driven gameplay, as you equip the party with different weapons, armor and accessories – providing with a nice layer of customization and control to what you want to do with each member, but it fails as it get to ‘boring-repetitiveness’ levels with a good side chunk of ‘forced online input lag*’ frustration as you need to get good rankings to get new color schemes and better equipment for your team.
Speed Brawl manages to be and not to be a pleasent experience. The forced online input lag and the repetitiveness ultimately killed a good-looking game with a good idea. But, if you can overcome the input lag issue, you’re in for a fun game.
Mechanics – 6/10
Narrative – 7/10
Presentation – 8/10
FINAL – 7/10