Arcade style brawlers, or beat ‘em ups, mostly play quite similar to each other; focusing on walking/running to the right, attacking all enemies on each stage before advancing. Speed Brawl attempts to add a sense of urgency into the genre, by setting predetermined time limits to each of the levels. With your goal of completing each event with a coveted gold trophy, there are rewards for achieving the time set for silver and bronze as well; you must perfect the act of speed fighting and platforming if you want to survive.
The game revolves around the ultimate public spectacle, Speed Brawl, with the hope the entertainment quells the ever-growing unrest with the working and middle class. It’s described as a sport only for the elite, pitting players against not only the clock but the remnants of the defeated insect-like menace known as the Selenites. In all honesty, the basic alien creature, the Ripper, resembles the arachnids from Starship Troopers although you will also have to face returning veterans from the war, mercenaries, and even former speed brawlers.
Before starting each event, you’ll be encapsulated in a cage, while a countdown prepares you for the start of the event. Think of it like waiting at the starting grid in a racing game. In similar fashion to some arcade racers, if you charge and time your dash correctly (begin holding right as “steady” appears), you’ll get an instant burst of speed to maximize your placement on the leaderboards. There are various types of events, ranging from championship events that combine your time from multiple runs to challenges that will push you to your limit. In pole racing events, you’ll have to swing on each pole, or checkpoint, before crossing the finishing line. You must choose an optimal path and find your groove as you platform your way across the stage and swing between poles for satisfying speed boosts. These racing stages start simple enough but quickly add to the complexity requiring you to activate checkpoints above, below and even behind you. Fortunately, you can quickly change direction mid-swing using the left stick to point in the proper direction.
As already mentioned, championships combine multiple events, requiring you to platform your way across levels as fast as you can, before being interrupted by combat encounters. Even then, you are expected to keep your momentum during engagements to best make use of your time. Using both finesse and power, you’ll want to use your basic attacks to push enemies into groups, optimizing your time by attacking as many foes at once. Once grouped, make use of your launcher attack to pummel them in the air, and then slam them back down for even more punishment. Getting hit completely stops your momentum, especially if you are knocked to the ground and forced to recover, all of which costs you valuable seconds. It may even be quicker to switch brawlers instead of waiting. You’ll heed my words once you miss out on achieving gold by one-tenth of a second due to getting hit once in the final encounter.
Besides basic attacks, the game prioritizes dodging and counter-attacks, not to mention special abilities and ultimate attacks. These character specific abilities are great at dealing out damage multiple foes at once, but I found it more important to learn how to counter-attack properly. The counter window is very tight, even if enemies telegraph their attacks. Dodging once you see an attack coming is an excellent way to avoid damage, but in order to counter, you need to be quite precise with your timing. It is probably the smallest counter window I’ve experienced in recent memory, but there are items/skills you can equip/unlock to make it slightly easier. During the tutorials when you are dealing with stationary enemies, it may seem simplistic to pull off, but in practice when dealing with a handful of foes on the ground and in the air at the same time, it becomes much more complicated.
You start each event, by selecting a team of two brawlers. Even if you are playing cooperatively, online or locally, each player chooses their own team. Since you will have a group of two, you can tag in/out at any time, as well as trigger an assist attack. This is especially useful as each of the characters have different playstyles. You may have one character equipped with the best offensive gear and skills and another focused on movement speed. As you progress and earn fame (essentially experience points), you’ll obtain skill points to spend on your characters across three individual branches; power, defense, and technique. Power generally relates to special attacks for each of the characters. For example, Ebba can add the chance of poisoning foes, with her special attacks, whereas Cassie can add a slashed status. Defense focuses on your dash attacks, movement speed, and overall health. The last branch, technique, is more uniquely tied to individual characters, adding additional damage output when near or at full health, or increasing damage when your combo reaches a set amount.
Characters have three slots to equip items from your inventory, gloves, boots, and trinkets (rings, necklaces, etc.). Your goal is simple, beat the allocated time on each event to earn prizes. The treasure chests yield RPG style equipment, such as a rare tier set of gloves that can inflict a burn status and increase your attack rating. It isn’t limited to equipment, however, as you’ll unlock new color palettes for the six brawlers. With the money you earn, you can purchase new equipment from the shops, if you aren’t satisfied with your current loot.
Speed Brawl has a lot more to offer than standard beat ‘em up titles. I certainly dig the unique and colorful stylized animated characters. The game features satisfying local and online multiplayer for the game’s 50+ events. There weren’t any joinable open online parties while testing, but I was able to invite a friend without issue. There are global leaderboards for each of the events if you are into that type of competition as well.
Note: Speed Brawl was reviewed based on a digital Xbox One copy of the game, provided by the publisher.