It’s not uncommon to see a video game take inspiration from others; making liberal use of another’s formula, tweaking it with their own unique ideas in the hopes of pushing some boundaries and changing the gaming landscape all the while. Whereas most games will zig where others have zagged, Bloober Team’s BRAWL takes a road far less traveled by taking the template of Super Bomberman and infusing it with a heavy dose of gothic horror and a dash of unique characters with specific movesets.
Brawl sets you loose in a world where all your nightmares reside – the dank, dreary Emporium. Within are conspicuously blocky arenas in which a spate of scary folk vie for supremacy by opening pathways within these column-filled stages to blow each other up. Proper timing and use of crossfire are tried and true tactics, as is the game definitely feels like Hudson Soft’s magnum opus to a tee. Where BRAWL tries to set itself apart is by having a roster of creepy hooligans with various powers much like a fighting game and trying to add an extra layer of complexity that way.
There are eight characters in all, ranging from your obligatory scary clown to a broken crash test dummy to a blind girl who carries a demonic teddy bear on her shoulders. They come replete with an arsenal of unique if uninspired special attacks that set them apart from their brethren. While they can be useful, they’re often forgotten in the heat of battle in lieu of expanding your bomb count or reach via old fashioned power-ups.
Although disappointing in practice, this concept is further downplayed by the fact that the dark arenas and loose movement often result in a game that feels a bit dodgy to the point where you never quite feel skillful at it. This is all done locally, with no online play to speak of. There is a nice set of variants you can play from trying to push characters across the board in sumo mode or trying to paint most of the floor in color domination, but with a mediocre game underneath it it’s too hard to get excited about them when the base game is so mediocre.
For those not interested in what is mainly a multiplayer affair, there is a solo option which again, much like a fighting game, enable you to choose from the stable and take these characters into a story mode in a more level-based fashion. All attempts at seriousness and malcontent are lost by goofy dialogue and vaudevillian voice acting. Even pushing the plots aside, the games attempts at spicing things up by offering light puzzles and boss fights fall flat to the point of feeling forced. It all feels shoehorned in, which makes for a ho-hum experience. You also have the option of using a tutorial, which skips the plot-driven stuff and teaches you how to use each character to their fullest potential.
If you’re interested in a horror-inspired Bomberman clone with shaky movement, non-distinct stages and a toned down freneticism BRAWL might just pique your interest. For the rest of you looking for a party/combat game there are other, more solid feeling, options out there including but not limited to Switch's own Super Bomberman R.