It is a tricky time to be launching a multiplayer fighting game. With Rumbleverse and Multiversus being released in recent times, and with both of those titles being free to play, it must take a big set of cojones to not only send out a similar game, but to also then think it is a good idea to charge money for it.
Still, if there’s a company that may have the draw to bring people in, despite having to pay for admission, it’s LEGO with LEGO Brawls – I’m guessing that Red Games Co, the developer, have piled all their eggs into that particular basket, but can this play with the big boys, or be mentioned in the same breath as the daddy of them all, Smash Bros? I pulled on my boxing gloves and dived into the world of LEGO Brawls.
Usually, at this point in a review, I would wax lyrical about the narrative delights to be found in the game at hand, and as much as I’d like to, I can’t today. You see, there is no story, other than everyone seemingly getting together for a ruck. LEGO Brawls doesn’t even attempt to give a reason to why everybody was kung fu fighting. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity as even Tekken tries to spin a tale. In fact, when you start the game, you are taken to a screen where you can choose who you want to fight, and how, but no narrative is forthcoming.
So, with that massive disappointment out of the way, let’s look at how the game is presented, shall we? Well, here the story is a lot better – in fact I’d go so far as to say it is first class. For small lumps of plastic, the LEGO minifigs that we play as have a massive amount of personality, with their looks and their moves being top notch. The sheer amount of characters to unlock and master, and the various implements that can also be found, along with new bits and bobs, allow for a massive amount of customisation. Fancy fighting with a tutu wearing clown, wielding a stun baton from Jurassic Park? Well, you can! The only limit to LEGO Brawls is in your imagination, and the amount of bits you have unlocked in your dressing up box.
Stage design is also pretty interesting especially if you are a fan of 2D side viewed platform levels. Still, there are a number of LEGO biomes that are represented, from LEGO Castles to Ninjago, to Jurassic Park and many others. Indeed, choosing the level is something that you have to vote on at the start of any game. Sounds are all pretty decent as well, with meaty thumps and clangs as you fight. Consider the various weapons that you can find and use in the battlegrounds themselves, and the audio is all nailed on.
But let’s look at the meat and drink of any fighter, the actual combat action. Unfortunately, here the story is less rosy, being brutally honest. When you first start a game, after you have chosen your character and tweaked their loadout if necessary, you are presented with a fairly stark menu – do you want to Brawl, or Party? Well, for the purposes of this review, party is the main multiplayer part of the game, where you can team up with others online, or try to take down all comers in intense PvP contests. I haven’t had a massive amount of success finding others to play with, to be honest, and while when it does work, it performs admirably, I don’t think that one real person on a team of CPU controlled bots is exactly pushing the netcode to it’s limits.
I have spent the majority of my time in Brawl mode, which is pretty much the local co-op-/single player part of the game and it is here where the majority of the unlocks come from. Let me explain. As you go through your career, you are asked to pick a theme, and then as you gain XP, you can unlock new things from that theme. I initially went with the Jurassic Park theme, and have unlocked a few people I assume are from the films, alongside some weapons and the main man himself from the recent films. You know the one, he who has the raptors that run around when he’s on his bike. Anyway, when you unlock a main character, such as him, there are mastery challenges associated with them. and getting them to 100% will then unlock further characters. A lot of achievement progress is fully tied to mastering certain characters and so you should expect to be found diving into LEGO Brawls for some time.
But this is a brawler, so what about the combat? Well, I think the phrase “basic” was invented for LEGO Brawls. The attack button is X, and only X, unless you pick up a glowing container which will give you different attacks, mapped to Y and B. These containers contain attacks that are suited to the biome you are fighting in, so in Jurassic Park you can get an attack that summons a giant dinosaur (which is practically game breaking, as it is almost impossible to defeat said dinosaur) whilst on the Castle stages, you may get a horse that can do a charge attack, and so on. And that’s it, pretty much, bounce about the place like Tigger on Red Bull, keep mashing X, and see who falls over first. Strategic this is not.
When playing a game mode like Control the Point, where you have to keep enemies out of a certain area, LEGO Brawls works pretty well, and it is fairly easy to see what is going on. In Free-for-Brawl mode, it is anything but, and the screen quite often zooms out to such a point that the characters on screen are tiny moving blobs; seeing any of what is happening requires a good old rub of the rabbit’s foot. Honestly, I despise this game mode, not to mince my words. It just doesn’t work.
In conclusion though, LEGO Brawls is a literal game of two halves. When you consider the way that it is presented and looks, both in the menus when customising, and in motion with LEGO characters battering seven shades of plastic out of each other, you’d pretty much be prepared to forgive it anything. That is until you pick up a controller and give it a go. It is here where the various shortcomings of the combat system are revealed, starting with the complete lack of skill required and ending with the fact that mashing the X button for hours on end actually isn’t that much fun.
Consider the fact that there are many free-to-play alternatives out there, and LEGO Brawls is one for only the most ardent of LEGO fans.
LEGO Brawls is on the Xbox Store