When I was first offered this assignment, it was described to me as "a platform fighter like Smash based around underwear." I immediately said yes, because what is the meaning of life if not to dig into the most obscure and strange gaming concepts to review them so that your readers can find the diamonds in the panty drawer? Or something like that, at least. Now that my playtime has drawn to a close, I've had a couple of weeks to reflect on Brief Battles and I've come away conflicted. The game is not a diamond in the panty drawer, but it's no skidmark either. It's a game with a clear vision that just doesn't have enough junk in its trunk to make it all the way across the finish line.
I dug into Brief Battles expecting a Super Smash Bros. clone. After playing it, I wouldn't say the comparison is fair. Brief Battles is made by a two-man indie studio and under an obviously limited budget. That doesn't excuse any shortcomings, but it does mean that a comparison to a AAA title is not fair — Brief Battles may sit within the same brawling genre, but it doesn't try to offer the same kind of experience. There is no story mode, only challenges. There is no roster of 70 characters, only six and they all fight the same. Most importantly, there is no AI and no online, only the friends you can convince to play with you. That was the game's greatest shortcoming for me.
The brawling arenas are the star of the show in this game, but since there is no AI that lets you play alone, you must find friends to play with you in person. For whatever reason, the game isn't that appealing. I had to beg to get my wife to play an hour with me, and that was only after I'd exhausted myself trying to bribe other friends with food and beer. The budget explains the lack of AI and online play, but it doesn't excuse it. This game desperately needed at least one of those, preferably both, and that it doesn't have any way to play the main game mode without local players is a real shame.
The gameplay of Brief Battles could be very good. There are some unique gameplay bits such as being able to climb any wall and ceiling and double jumps as well as super jumps. All this comes together to create gameplay that moves across the entire map in ways that demand a lot of skill. To actually fight, you can always ground pound and you'll also find gifts with powered underwear all across the map. That underwear comes in two primary forms, either a projectile attack or a dash attack with slight variations on each. It's really quite simple and the controls are intuitive, but it also leaves room for player skill to make a big impact on the game.
That skill is important sounds like a high compliment and it is. Unfortunately, it's also a negative. A game like Smash has a very high skill cap, but it also has ways for players of all skills to play. If you're playing locally, you can turn on item frenzy matches that essentially make the entire game random and fun. If you want to complete against fighters of your skill level, AI battles are available and theoretically, you could find players to compete against online. Brief Battles doesn't have that. I am usually better than my wife at Xbox games like this. We could play 100 matches and she might not win any of them. That's not fun to me, it's not fun to her and unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about it except simply not play or to play challenges.
We did have some fun in the challenges. The co-op challenges sent us in battles against very basic enemies that shot projectiles, tried to ram you and generally got in the way. In these, our relative skills did not matter since we were working together toward a common purpose. If these challenges had been the entire game, I might have come away much happier, but unfortunately there simply weren't enough for the two of us to play.
Setting off alone again, I could dig into single player challenges as well. These involved things like collecting items in a certain time period and other similar challenges. There are a metric ton of single-player challenges and they can get pretty difficult. For anyone looking for a hardcore platforming game, I suppose Brief Battles is actually a fair option assuming you've got little interest in the actual game. I enjoyed my time with the challenges and can even see myself coming back later to complete more.
There are limitations to the game, but every piece of it that's available is well-crafted and clearly made with care. The game is made with Unreal Engine and the visuals pop with color and are designed to stand out. The game controls very well and is, crucially, responsive. Movement in the game functions well and everything happens in the way I'd expect. I wouldn't say this about most comparable games, but Brief Battles feels absolutely great to actually play.
The achievements focus primarily on the challenges and they won't be easy. You'll need to get at least silver medals to make any progress at all, with golds being the ultimate goal. Gold medals will require skill and precision to obtain so they're not for the faint of heart. Beyond those challenge medals, you'll also need to get up to ten minutes in an endless battle and a few miscellaneous achievements as well. Finally, the main game mode will simply ask you to play each of its modes 30 times, which could be easily boosted solo with two controllers.
SummaryBrief Battles can be very fun if you have local players of comparable skill to play against regularly. It feels great to play, it's visually clean and distinctive, and it's got a high skill cap. Unfortunately, most of us aren't so lucky and the lack of online or even AI gameplay really hurts it. As an alternative, the game offers up both single player and co-op challenges. The co-op challenges are short and easy while the single player challenges are long and brutally difficult if you're going for gold medals. Knowing all those caveats, the challenges are fun and the game itself is designed very well. That's commendable in its own way and means platformer aficionados might find something to love here.
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately 4 hours playing through the challenges, getting medals and convincing his wife to try to play. He unlocked 9 of 31 achievements during his playtime. The game was played on an Xbox One X. A review code was provided by the developer.
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