Playing SNK’s Soccer Brawl feels a lot like playing SNK’s Super Sidekicks (also available on the eShop). Both take the game of football (soccer, if you prefer) and tweak it into a simple quick pick-up-and-play arcade experience that ditches the likes of formations, squad selections, half time and injury time. Soccer Brawl takes further liberties however by introducing “rebound walls”, powerful charged shots and allowing violence on the pitch.
In the future setting of Soccer Brawl, player wages seem to have gotten so out of hand that it has been found to be cheaper to construct and field a team of robots and - in a further cost-cutting move - the player count has been reduced to seven per team. Unlike their fleshy predecessors, these robots do not collapse in agony from slight taps to their person and so the governing body has ditched fouls from the sport, allowing players to win the ball using whatever means they wish. Balls can be won using a sliding tackle, a shoulder barge or even an energy blast to the back.
Apart from the increased violence, games play out much like regular football as you dribble the ball around the opposition, perform passes and shoot once you are within goal-scoring range. There are only two buttons used, but you can still perform a variety of shots, overhead kicks and headers depending on your current situation. The shoulder barge is often the most effective way of winning the ball and is performed by simply pressing the two buttons together; helpfully, it is also mapped to ZR by default on Switch controllers.
One notable difference to play is the use of the rebound walls. While the ball can still be knocked out of play for a throw in, should you kick it past the “out-zone” it’ll hit a wall and return to the field, making it a good tactic to get the ball past a hard-to-shake opponent. Charged shots also add some variety to the play and are performed by simply holding the button down before release. A power meter shows how charged up your intended shot is and these are tougher to stop once unleashed, capable of knocking players over. Defending teams can also charge up to release an attack to attempt to win the ball back. Any player can perform a charged shot, but each team has one (differently designed) ace player who can perform a special shot. Unleashed when the power meter is full, these fancy looking kicks see the ball twirl around in a dizzying fashion en route to the goal.
Visually the game is competent but unspectacular, lacking the more detailed visuals that Super Sidekicks has for goal celebrations and penalty shootouts. It moves along smoothly however, and the action is easy to follow; the hideously-coloured kits really pop from the screen so you'll never get confused about which team is yours. There are two pitches you can play on: a traditional-looking grass one and one that uses metal panels; the grey look (combined with the violence) bringing to mind the classic Speedball games.
The core gameplay is fun as you employ the various tactics to end up with at least one more goal than the other team, whether that’s skilfully avoiding challenges or just beating up the opposition to stop them scoring. Players receive damage from attacks, with their effectiveness dropping as a result, so it’s a good idea to pass if your dribbling attempts are not going well. Should the game result in a draw there’s a penalty shootout that works the same as in Super Sidekicks (shoot left, right or down the middle) although you only get three spotkicks as opposed to five.
Where the game falls down is with its lack of content. Super Sidekicks featured a disappointing twelve teams, but Soccer Brawl has only eight. The main mode is “League mode”, although this is actually a series of knockout matches as you attempt to beat the other seven teams in the game. With the matches getting tougher as you progress, this would be less of an issue in the arcades where you try to get as far as you can using as little of your spare change (or, if you were naughty, dinner money) as possible, but armed with unlimited continues the game feels slight.
Having cleared the game, you could always challenge yourself to attempt it on one credit, although if you are doing that you might as well try playing the ACA Hi Score mode. As always, this gives you an online leaderboard to try and improve your place on, but with points awarded for victories those placements are of course limited. That is the same as with Super Sidekicks, but thankfully the Caravan mode is also handled the same, challenging you to score as many goals as possible in five minutes. It’s a lot of fun and more replayable than the main arcade mode.
The other option for play is the two-player versus mode which provides some quick multiplayer action. The simple controls mean it still works well if detached JoyCon are your only option, and it proves to be very entertaining as you crash into each other to win balls and unleash over the top shots on goal.
As always, the standard ACA options are available allowing you to add scanlines to the image and remap buttons if you wish. Gameplay-wise the arcade mode’s difficulty can be adjusted and you can opt to turn off penalty shootouts - although this counts a draw as a loss. You can also adjust the match length for the second game onwards (thirty second increments) going from one to the default two-and-a-half minutes. Options to adjust the length for the opening game and versus mode are also listed, but for some reason these can’t actually be changed.
The two-button setup and lack of options give Soccer Brawl the same simple pick-up-and-play appeal of Super Sidekicks. That other offering from SNK trumps this game in some areas (visuals, different weather conditions), but the changes Soccer Brawl makes to rules of the sport give it a slight edge in entertainment terms. Ditching fouls allows matches to flow without interruption, requiring you to keep focused as the action moves from one end of the pitch to the other. Rebound walls can provide satisfaction should you successfully knock the ball around an opponent to continue your attack, and there's some dark amusement in seeing a player run the length of the field only to be dispossessed by an energy blast to the face. As enjoyable as the game can be however, it ends after seven victories. This combined with the lack of options (and teams) limits the long term appeal of Soccer Brawl, but its simple nature means that it works well for those looking for a quick bout of "footbrawling" fun with a friend.