Wednesday, May 6, 2015

BRAWL (PS4)

Never in my career as a gaming journalist have I seen a developer initially offer up something so broken, and unplayable as their debut entry into next-gen gaming only to go back to the drawing board, and make it so absolutely awesome. Going into this review I had my doubts. I'm not going to lie. I just did not see Bloober Team pulling this one off, especially after seeing that it was free to everyone on the PS4. After playing it though I'm truly impressed, and on so many levels. Bloober Team took the journalists' advice, and added a significant amount of noteworthy content without simply tacking on extras to make it appear as if they'd listened. In this new re-imagining of "Basement Crawl" we have four new modes of gameplay with multiple options in each that are anything, but tacked on material. There's an objective driven story mode introducing each of the eight characters, an offline and online multiplayer with various types of modes to choose from, and two challenge modes that play sort of like a survival mode. The content is definitely there this time around, and the gameplay is far beyond what the first game had to offer in regards to a quality presentation.

BRAWL, which is a title that is basically a play on words brings to the gamer a wholly new experience that outshines anything that the abysmal "Basement Crawl" had going for it. At heart it takes all that was good about  the 'Bomberman' franchise (Dare I say it), and makes it a fun-loving experience for a more mature audience. Keep in mind that this is no kid's game even though you will be playing as what looks to be a mismatched group of misfit toys from the depths of Dante's Inferno. Immediately when starting up BRAWL you will see a lingering rating screen showing the game's "M" rating along with all the naughty details. Amongst those said details you'll find sexual themes, partial nudity, violence, and blood amongst other things. If you can stomach such content, and want to have yourself some party game fun with the AI, or with online players then by all means continue on past the warning, and enjoy the game for what it's worth. You'll no doubt enjoy it.

When you finally get to the main menu after the warning screen, and past the save data notification screen you'll be greeted by a haunting Bloober Team logo, and shortly thereafter the main menu which houses the game's various modes of play. Within the main menu listings you'll find a story mode with three initially unlocked characters that can be chosen from, and played as as well as some other characters that are unlocked through specific gameplay feats. The initially available set includes a 'Sad Clown', a 'Girl (with a knife wielding teddy bear)', and my favorite character of all, the 'Puppet Mistress'. Through a vocal introduction by a very talented male voice actor you'll be properly introduced to the character of your choosing, and will become acquainted with their unique special abilities as you guide them through the maze-like structures that are filled with diabolical minions, destructible crates, levers, and traps of varying sorts. Your goal in each portion of the story mode playthrough varies, but includes objective style gameplay that will either have you trying to outsmart your AI opponents, or will have your pulling levers in order to advance to the next checkpoint. There are even areas in which you'll have to defend points of interests that tie-in with the characters' background, or history. Each part of the character's story is a timed event, so getting from point "A" to point "B" on time is a must if you hope to complete it, and see what evil force is driving them to do what they do.

Aside from having story elements, and voice-overs that taunt, and praise you for your failures, and achievements the 'Story Mode' also doubles as a means to better understand the characters that are within the game. As I said before each character has a particular set of skills (... good old Liam Neeson, lol!) with which to dispatch the enemies in a Bomberman-like fashion. In order to utilize these skills you will have to pick up power-ups that appear on the playing field as well as those that are hidden within the destructible boxes. As far as power-ups go each character has bombs with which to blow up crates, and foes as well as power-ups that gift them the ability to use other skills that are unique to them. The 'Puppet Mistress', for example has a "Medusa's Gaze" which can slow down opponents long enough for her to get away, or long enough for her to set a bomb, and blow them up. Of course other characters have their own unique ways to deal with opposition, and learning how to best use those skills is a huge part of winning within the game of "BRAWL".

Once you've become familiar with the characters' stories, and what they can do in-game it's time to take your battle to a more competitive level. By this I mean you can either continue on to engage AI driven opponents via the "Local Multiplayer", or engage against actual human controlled opponents from across the globe via the "Online Multiplayer". Whichever multiplayer experience you choose to go along with you will be given a choice of five different modes. Amongst these said modes are a free-for-all "Versus" in which the kill count matters, a one-versus-one "Duel", a "Classic" Bomberman style mode, a "Sumo" mode in which the objective is to push the other characters off of the platform, and a "Color Domination" mode in which your special skills, and bombs paint the platform tiles in a domination driven battle. All modes of play are highly competitive with the exception of the "Challenge" modes which can be co-op, and will definitely give the player that feeling of nostalgia if they've ever played games like Bomberman.

As far as the 'Challenge' mode goes you'll find that it's available content comes in two very interesting packages. The first mode within the 'Challenge' menu happens to be a mode called, "Horde". Surprisingly this is not like your Gears of War "Horde Mode" at all (Well .. maybe in some respects it is). Instead you'll find that your objective within "Horde" is to kill off as many waves of AI minions as possible using your bombs, and skills within a fixed maze-like arena of sorts. Upon the destruction of each wave of AI minions another wave will appear giving your character only moments to gather up the dropped power-ups that appear just before that said wave. Once you die your end tally will reflect how well you did, and will show off everything from the number of times you kicked the bucket (aka, "Died") to the amount of time you survived as well as how many waves you were able to complete. One thing I forgot to mention about the 'Story Mode' was that it also grades you at the end, and tallies up your feats of prowess, or lack thereof with an added alphabetical score to seal the deal. Of course it is the "A" grade that you want to shoot for, but from experience that is easier said than done.

Past the 'Horde' challenge mode you'll also find in place a rather unique action-defense mini-game called, "Sheep" which will have your character guarding multiplying sheep from bloodthirsty minions. The sheep are partially gated in within the squared arena structure, but as they multiply they'll begin to cover more areas of the map. Using your bombs, and your skills (which can also kill the sheep) you'll have to keep the minions from chowing down on your unsuspecting flock. Should they succeed the sheep will burst into a bloody mist leaving nothing where they stood. It is in your best interest to keep at least one sheep alive lest you see that final grade screen which doubles as a "Game Over" screen.

The Verdict ...

I was all kinds of surprised with this game. It surprised me to see how great the game was, and how complimentary each mode of play was to the core experience. I loved that Bloober Team added a story mode. I loved that they also offered other offline gameplay options aside from the online multiplayer experience. One of my biggest complaints with the former "Basement Crawl" was that it was only an online multiplayer game. Thankfully Bloober Team fixed that, and added some gameplay options that are definitely viable in an offline sense. Another thing I loved about this particular version of the developer's vision was the upgraded graphics, the different camera angles that were used, and the hauntingly ambient soundtrack which was like that of a horror film filled with singing children's voices. The soundtrack paired with the epic voice-overs, and well scripted dialogue really made the story mode stand out. For that I tip my hat to the development team at Bloober.

As far as gameplay goes it looked, and felt like a properly polished version of what "Basement Crawl" was meant to be. While some would likely argue it's a Bomberman rip-off I feel that "BRAWL" is it's own unique gaming experience, and is one that definitely leans towards a more mature rating. This is definitely not something meant for younger children, but in my honest opinion is more along the lines of a "T" rated game, or a "PG-13" movie instead of a mature title. I don't see it earning the "M" rating despite the somewhat suggestive themes used within. As far as "My" rating goes you'll find that "BRAWL" gets my official seal of approval. At the $15 price mark it's definitely recommendable, but not so much at the $20 price mark which it will be increased to one month after release. Supposing you bought "Basement Crawl" prior to this game's release you'll get "BRAWL" absolutely free. I suppose it's a way for Bloober Team to repay those who fell for their initial blunder of a game.

*ATTENTION*: The game will set you back $15 for the first month it is out, and $20 after that. It's only free if you previously bought "Basement Crawl".

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