VIDEO GAME: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout Review
Running around a giant soft-play assault course as something akin to a loose limbed, anthropomorphous jelly bean, flanked on both sides by 59 other flailing jelly beans, donned in various outrageous outfits, and brought to life through a colour palette that might well be the love child of a crayon set and a sweet shop; Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is the newest experience to throw it’s hat in the arena of Battle Royale video games.
Yet, for all the bright colours and giddy moments of play, it is certainly a game we should be sitting up and paying attention to. Not only does it do some unexpectedly sophisticated and complex things with the genre, it reminds us that it is ok for games to be centred around being a fun and silly experience. And, with its limbs flailing wildly at us, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout says that games should be available to everyone, because they might just be better that way.
Out with the Old
Arguably the newest genre of video games, the Battle Royale has exploded in the last few years. Now, well and truly entrenched in the gaming industry, games like Fornite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds (PUBG), have all capitalised on the novelty of this gameplay with ingenuity and success, providing a range of sweaty-palmed, shooter experiences. Yet, as quickly as it has been established, the genre may well be starting to feel tired.
The Battle Royale genre is full and oversaturated with games that favour macho-shooter stories and themes of aggressive domination, competing with bullets and explosions to best one and other. Sure, there are a variety of different play styles, game modes and unique gameplay features to keep vast numbers of players occupied, and these have all been celebrated in their own ways. But, at the heart of these games, there is a growing sense of familiarity, a same-ness, dangerously close to unoriginal, hiding just below the surface. Maybe, its time for something to show us what else we can do with this genre.
[Enter Fall Guys]
Produced by Mediatonic and released on the 4th of August this year, Fall Guys has been a rapid success. Played over a series of rounds (3-5), you compete against your jelly bean opponents in a giddy Total-Wipe-Out-meets-Takeshi’s-Castle bonanza where manoeuvring obstacle courses, avoiding swinging paddles and dodging giant inflatable fruit might just be enough to get you to the crown.
It adopts some of the common tropes we’ve come to know of what makes a good Battle Royale game. There is large scale competition (maximum of 60 players per game) that is gradually reduced through various different stages of elimination until one player is left standing. The games economic success is made through a broad and accessible cosmetics system, where you pay real world money for Kudos to use on cosmetic goods. The designers have even made the loading screen—as you enter into a new game—a cinematic of your avatar free falling into the playing area—an respectful nod to the genre.
Some of these familiar aspects are proudly present in Fall Guys. The design decisions around these familiar tropes feels a lot like a salute to Battle Royale games, respecting what might have come to be tradition and firmly presents itself as a contender. Yet, the themes and play style Mediatonic have centred the game around are starkly different. It is in this difference that the game seems to poke fun at the rigid ways of playing a Battle Royale, too.
At the centre, Fall Guys is fundamentally silly and fun. It’s garish colour palette and cute design style, are important components in making it a antonym of serious. It presents a controlled level of pandemonium that encourages a risk free style of gameplay, something that talks to our innate desire to play far more than our need to survive by killing everyone else. Fall Guys takes the semantics that are quickly defining this genre and gives us something completely new by abandoning the somewhat tired themes and stories used before. Yet, it never stops feeling like a Battle Royale, and this is important when prophesising whether its success will last.
Simplicity is key
It seems that one of the things that defines a successful Battle Royale style game in it’s early days is considering where else it can go. Previous examples have relied on building mechanics or an asymmetric character selection, to encourage a variety of play styles. This is an important start, but the value is in the ability to customise the core mechanic enough to continue developing and expanding for long term replayability. Largely thanks to the simplicity of its mechanics, Fall Guys feels like a fresh pad of paper, page after page of potential!
The variety in play is so easily achieved that your initial foray into the game is driven by a curiosity to see what else is on offer. The mechanics of play, and things you can do as a player, are so stripped back—jump, move, grab and dive—that the game can be endlessly inventive. You could be running up a downwards moving conveyor belt, dodging fruit, or racing across a track made of giant seesaws. Better yet, you could be speeding along a racecourse made of floating platforms and rotating arms, desperately trying to get to the finish line before your opponents. These games all feel different regardless of the core gameplay loop because it’s the risk and challenge of each level that can be infinitely reinvented and made new. The simplicity in how you play means the focus can be on where and what you play in Fall Guys, which lays us at the feet of the designers and their imagination.
The wonderful thing about Fall Guys’ simplicity is not only in its potential for constant replayability, but in it’s accessibility. By lowering the bar of entry, Mediatonic have created a game that is attractive to a vast range of players, ultimately raising the amount of fun you can have with a variety of people. And it being fun is what the experience of Fall Guys is all about.
It doesn’t take much to notice a seemingly unified pursuit for realism in the games that dominate the industry. Whether you agree with this as a worthwhile direction or not, there is a common notion that the games we play must be complicated, complex and something-more-than-just-fun. One could argue that these demands have been born out of the soaring prices of games, which would put the free-to-play or inexpensive Battle Royale’s in a unique position to offer a new experience.
Fall Guys, takes the party style of Mario, throws it into this free-for-all format and gives us an experience centred around the exhilaration of fun. It is so bold in its prioritising of fun that even failure is considered. When we fall during a race, the stakes get a little higher and this “failure” becomes part of an endurance to win. The rising tension is perfectly juxtaposed by the sheer silliness of the events played out in this inflatable ball pit. And, when we finally face elimination, it never feels punishing or frustrating, it’s a release of laughter!
Fall Guys for all
At the centre of the experience, Fall Guys is wholesome and, in its simplicity, accessible. It demonstrates that games can rely on providing a simple, fun experience for everyone to be successful. Fall Guys does so much with so little. It’s gaudy, playful art style works well with the basic gameplay to create a low bar of entry, for players old and new to participate.
By acknowledging familiar tropes, Mediatonic have designed a game that celebrates its membership as part of the Battle Royale genre. However, in the same vein, Fall Guys shows us the potential of the genre, taking a bold step in a direction away from the guns and killing to demonstrate what alternatives we could have as players.
Behind all the flailing limbs, it’s inflatable playgrounds and all the giant mallets, Mediatonic promote a mantra that games should be available to everyone, and good game design doesn’t need complex gameplay structures to provide an exhilarating and rewarding experience. Fall Guys is already being enjoyed by so many and seeing great success. Ultimately, this success exposes a need for more flexibility and accessibility within the industry, and Fall Guys are quite ready to lead the way. Just don’t get knocked off the edge.
Some Design tips:
The design of your environment should be used to continue to tell the narrative of your game.
You only need a simple, well tested core gameplay loop to provide a fun experience.
The simplier the game the lower the bar of entry. This makes it more accessible for a wider audience.
Don't be afriad to make your game fun if it is important to the experience!
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