Anarchy. The Guts ‘N Goals store page may suggest that this is a football or soccer spinoff, but in reality this is pure, unadulterated chaos.
Even when you slow it all down, Guts ‘N Goals is less a football game, and more a cousin to Rocket League. You are dropped into a 2D arena, barely bigger than the game screen. There are three of you versus three of them, and a giant football is dropped into the centre circle. Your aim is to get it into the giant goal in the opponent’s half, and you’re going to do that by hitting it with giant sticks. Yep, sticks.
You can hit the ball with a tap of the X button, but you can also hold the X button for a supercharged thwack, which – if we’re being honest – we did on almost every occasion. Hit the ball and it careens around the arena, and hopefully you or someone else will tuck it into the goal. Get two goals and the match is won.
But there’s a ‘Guts’ in the title to go with the ‘Goals’. So you’re not just scoring goals: you are absolutely leathering your opponents too. There’s a health bar above you and your enemies’ heads, and you can invoke memories of The Walking Dead TV show by thunking into players with a baseball bat (among other weapons – there are quite a few to choose from). Kill a player, and they will wait a few seconds to respawn, giving you a hefty advantage in the three-versus-three stakes.
There’s a bit of spice in the form of special abilities and mutators. Each player has a special that’s triggered by LB, and sits on a cooldown. We liked playing as a granny who unleashed a pack of cats around her to swarm the ball, as if the chaos wasn’t already too much. Other characters drop bombs, regain health, or blink towards the ball. And when the game reaches sudden death without a winning score, mutators are rolled on a giant wheel of fortune. One of our favourites was the ‘Am I Alone?’ mutator, simply because it made everyone else invisible, so I could finally see what the Dickens was going on.
Now, this is the structure for the average game in Guts ‘N Goals, and if you’re playing multiplayer or a quick match, then it’s what you’re likely to encounter. But Guts ‘N Goals has no interest in being vanilla. It’s thoroughly neapolitan, with extra sprinkles and a flake. It’s absolutely rammed with extra stuff, and we struggle to recall an indie game that had such a simple core, but so many additional unlocks and modes on top.
Take the Grand Prix mode, for example. Rather than stick you in a knockout tournament of matches, which would be expected, it gives you a sequence of eight stages to complete. Four of these are increasingly difficult ‘Soccer Games’ – often with only one or two of you on the pitch, which only seems unfair. But the other four are varied and interesting. These are Minigames, which require you to satisfy some wacky objective, like making the ball a paintball and then playing a game of territory grab. Can you splatoon the entirety of the arena in your colour? Others might recall a game of pinball, or a game of tag, or an obstacle course that your ball has to pass through. There’s an attention deficit here that’s fascinating: it takes a while before you have to complete a minigame that you’ve already encountered before.
If you like these remixes of the core gameplay, then there’s an entire Challenges mode. You get dozens of these challenges, and you can tick them off for rewards. And boy are there unlocks. Virtually every action in the game will unlock a new weapon, character, stadium or game mode, and there are 409 collectibles in total. Some are bought from the shop, others are thrown at you like confetti. These aren’t just cosmetic: the thirty characters each have different abilities, weapons have different effects, and new game modes are incredibly substantial, including a team-vs-boss mode called MVP Hunter.
Guts ‘N Goals is a significantly generous game. But you can probably tell from the first paragraph that we weren’t completely sold. There’s no getting round the cacophony of noise, visuals and gameplay that is a game of Guts ‘N Goals. It’s not easy to read where you are and where your team is, let alone what LB attacks are being used or what health the opponents are on. In some ways the bombast is fun, particularly in four-player local co-op, where the sheer amount of noise is part of the deal. It’s chaos and someone will benefit from it. But in single-player it can verge on the random, and we often felt like we were winning Grand Prix’ out of sheer luck.
In being generous, it can also make Guts ‘N Goals uneven. Some characters aren’t worth bothering with, simply because they don’t have an answer for the game’s slowish speeds: you need a character that can get to the ball quickly, and only a few have that capability. Taking a swipe at the ball can feel inconsistent – sometimes you will connect, while other times you will feel that you’ve ghosted through it. And some modes and challenges just aren’t as satisfying as others (MVP Hunter mode in particular felt tacked on).
But for everything that doesn’t stick, there is plenty that does. Guts ‘N Goals is a comprehensive package, which you might not expect from a game that’s basically Rocket League where everyone’s gotten out of their car, brandishing baseball bats. It’s subtle as a brick; it sells a brand of anarchy that’s too noisy; but most importantly it’s fun, and flourishes when you’ve got friends on the sofa with you.
You can buy Guts ‘N Goals from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S