The 2D action platformer has produced some of gaming’s most diamond-hard experiences: Contra, Metal Slug, Metal Gear, Shinobi. Only recently, we were stumbling through Shadow Gangs and dying more times than Sean Bean.
Colour us surprised, then, that Brotherhood United turned out to be friendly. We racked up level after level barely registering a hit, let alone losing a life, and breezed to the credit sequence within a few hours. We had a good time doing it, like we’d settled down to a Van Damme movie and came away satisfied. But the relative easiness will push people away as much as it will pull others in. You likely know which side you’re on.
The game starts with a grisly intro that doesn’t marry up with the rest of the game, and could probably have been ripped out, like Scorpion holding a spinal column. Then the music kicks in – all swirling chiptune-rock – and you know you’re in good hands. Eastasiasoft have a mixed history, but this one gets its references right.
The story is discardable waffle: something about your gang, called the Brotherhood, getting ambushed and your mates abducted. Then it’s time to make your brother (in a character creation interface that is as bargain basement as they come), and then you’re in!
The graphics would have gotten a savaging in CVG back in the day, and they certainly don’t hold up now. The player characters reminded us of the stubby footballers in Nintendo World Cup, and that was released over 30 years ago. Models repeat over the game, and you’re saving the same two gang members about fifty times before the end. Sure, it evokes a past era, but so does getting smacked on the bum with a cane. Credit should go to the bosses, which are about twenty times prettier than anything else in the game. You wonder if they were handed over to a more talented mate to polish up.
But as Dwarf Fortress players will tell you, none of it means a fig if the game plays well, and – on the whole – Brotherhood United is a decent play. You have eight directions to fire in, with LB and RB used to fire diagonally down and up respectively. Enemies trudge toward you and take a while to even spot you, so you’ve got a hefty window to get in their faces and fire. They go down with only one or two shots, so you’re running like a whippet through levels and – should your fancy take you – you can completely ignore them in an effort to reach the end.
You can probably sense why the game is easy. With the exception of a couple of enemies (some hovering mechs did us in a couple of times), you outgun pretty much everything, and their dim-wittedness gives you the upper hand. The bosses aren’t much of an elevation beyond this either: most can be bulldozed by getting in their faces and firing, or with intelligent use of the B button dodge. There’s a hugely generous continue system too, which gives you three lives per mission, replenishing when you move onto the next. Even if a boss does have your number, you’ve likely got there with your lives intact, and the damage you’ve done to its HP between lives is retained. On the menu, you can even skip to the level you last reached.
We will be honest: for a budget title, we were perfectly fine with this lower-pitched difficulty. You’re still getting a few hours of entertainment, and there’s a medal system for each level that rewards your skill, should you want to show off your aptitude. We can fully understand that some will come away underwhelmed – there’s really no reason to memorise enemy placement, for example, which fans of the genre revel in – but as a throwaway B-movie of a game, we enjoyed it.
There are some wrinkles in the game that make it more difficult, but they’re more by accident than anything else. The platforming is a bit duff, as you trudge in treacle after every jump, and we felt a smidge of latency that made it unresponsive. Some levels lean into the platforming, giving you disappearing ledges, which makes these issues more barbed. The platforming in general sucks.
Some enemies enter strange states where they become unblockable (melee warriors wait under platforms, readying their attack), but the stacks of life will let you sponge it up without a care. It’s hard to tell which platforms can or can’t be jumped on. And excuse the wokeness, but did Brotherhood United really need to have zero women throughout? We assumed the title was metaphorical.
It’s hard to be critical of Brotherhood United on Xbox One and its many bruised edges. Sure, it looks like a knock-off, and the platforming stinks, but it sets such a low bar that it clears it. It wants to give you three hours of no-nonsense action, switching out difficulty for a sense of momentum, and it does it all for a budget price. It’s more Seagal than Stallone, then, but some days are Under Siege days.