Dated Review - Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Dated Review - Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

When I started this blog, it was supposed to be a bit of fun. A stream of consciousness to track the games I had played and my hobby progress. I also wanted to see if I could do a better job of reviewing video games than proper paid journalists.

By the end of this feature presentation, it'll be a failure all around. I cannot tell a lie, I like when people read my blog. I also like pretending no-one reads it so I can impress myself by jumping over the low bar I set for my readership. I'm an evil egotist.

Before we get into the meat of Fall Guys proper, as per my new protocol, I'd like to take a minute to discuss the human cost of Fall Guys.

In this case, it seems both the publisher (Devolver Digital) and the developer (Mediatonic) are small, agile organisations, who care about their staff and are adverse to crunch. A cursory google search finds evidence that both entites are clean and have a firm understanding that crunch and other abusive video game industry practices are to be avoided. It is good to know that in the doom and gloom that is 2020, there is still a commitment from some organisations not to be evil, and to make good video games for the sake of making good video games.

So, Fall Guys, then. Let's get the edgy summary out of the way. It's a trend-chasing battle royale game with microtransactions, that went viral and is now the latest property to be milked for every penny by the modern video game news cycle. Every man and his dog is playing it and every streamer who needs eyeballs is playing it to attract viewers. None of this is the fault of Fall Guys, which is merely a cog in the machine, but it bears mentioning.

I said this article was redundant because Fall Guys has been out for two weeks. If you don't know about it, you're clearly living under a rock and have no interest in reading this article, assuming you found it in the first place. If you know about it, reading this will be like reading one of those awful clickbait news articles with forty slides where the end result is something mundane like "milk tastes good and is high in calcium". But I played it and I want to acknowledge the time I invested, so here I am.

Just in case ye olde caveman does find this blog and wishes to know all about Fall Guys, let me advise you. The premise of the game is sixty bean-like people (the "Fall Guys") compete in a series of different minigames to be crowned a winner. As the game progresses, more and more bean-people (will also accept "egg men") are eliminated, adding a natural ramping up of tension as the probability that your uncoordinated self will somehow win. If you get eliminated, it'll take you five seconds to hop back into a new round of sixty beans.

Yes, I have won a game of Fall Guys. No, I don't consider myself to be "good" at the game. No, I don't care how many wins you have, sit down.

Mediatonic, the game's developers (as well as the games news cycle, hanging off of their every word now that the game has gone viral) spoke at length about how they were inspired by classic obstacle course television programs like Gladiators, Takeshi's Castle and Wipeout. I've even seen some of these television programs. There's also a big helping of Mario Party minigame design in there and then a tiny bit of battle royale. I remain unconvinced how much battle royale is in Fall Guys and I don't think there's as much as people think.

There are twenty four different minigames of varying quality to shuffle your eggy man through. There are straightforward obstacle course races, team games involving soccer balls and eggs, tag minigames where the aim is to keep hold of your tail, elimination style events with rotating foam rollers and disappearing floor panels, and a really boring memory game. The game has full collision physics, so often the challenge comes not from the obstacle course itself, but from battling with your fellow egg-bean-man. There is significant variance in minigame quality, but the majority of minigames get a pass mark. I consider Fall Guys' core gameplay loop is at its strongest when you are engaged for the entire length of any particular minigame.

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Minigames like 'Hoopsie Daisy', which involves characters running around an arena jumping through hoops (duh) and thus keeps the players involved from start to finish are the high watermark. Another good game, 'Door Dash', capitalises on the collision physics, which forces marshmallow men into gaps which are clearly too small to fit the number of contestants, thus ensuring hilarity. By contrast, a game like 'Perfect Match', where you have to find the right tile or be cast into the slime pit, represent extended periods of down-time with nothing to do. With a core gameplay loop that seems designed with such a frenetic pace in mind, a game where you spend twenty seconds sitting on your hands very low stakes feels like a bad fit.

Whining about game quality aside, the game is fun. That is the general thrust here. I did find it more fun to play with friends, as this is the sort of game where you want to share experiences with your rowdy mates, but in the first week I didn't mind playing by myself. Mediatonic is smart enough not to allow ways to interact (such as voice and text chat) between the beans, as that way the game can be enjoyed by all folks, free of harrassment. It also makes it perfect for small children. I do have concerns about the game's shelf life though. Without regular updates (I'm talking a new obstacle minigame every fortnight or so) the game's momentum will eventually slow and then the playerbase will dry up. Even with twenty-four minigames, each game is so compact and the rounds so short you'll see a lot of repetition. And whilst you'll grin and bear a rubbish minigame once an hour, the more you see the same minigames you hate, the less you'll appreciate the quality games. That's just how we humans are programmed.

Of course gameplay is just one part of the pie and Fall Guys' visual design is top notch. The graphics really do evoke a feeling of being a contestant on a physical game show. They make you feel like a clueless berk in a foam rubber suit one embarrassing nut shot away from elimination. And though the visuals appear simple, you can tell there's been a lot of thought put into how the game is supposed to look and feel. The texture designs and contrasting colours perfectly capture the sense of being a contestant on a program like Wipeout. There are little touches like fabric stretch marks at the corners of platforms, game physics and sounds that help to reinforce the immersion of the course surfaces being made of spongy gym-mat material. Fall Guys' colour palette is also bright and cheerful, with lots of pastel colors, so visibility is never difficult and seeing where you are in a twenty-person scrum is actually quite easy.

There's also music.

If that wasn't good enough, the game's little bean characters have lots of colorful costumes to wear. There are some that are gated behind downloadable content - more on that later, but for the most part the game is generous with the amount of currency it provides players to buy constumes from the bean store. Although again, the store is on a rotation, so it's not quite as fair as it could be. But you can dress up as an astronaut, a novelty hot-dog costume, a wolf. Mediatonic have also allowed a select number of other games to have skins for the game, including the venerable Team Fortress, which is nice.

The two scourges of modernity that bug me about the game are the DLC (which I bought because the costumes are nice) and the Microtransactions. Because the store is on a rotation, fear of missing out is leveraged to try and scare players into buying currency if they want something and they don't know when they're going to see it next. This system is clearly not as bad as other games, certainly, but it's not as good as it could be. You'll have to make your own decision on where you draw the line here. For myself, I'm not about to try and torch Fall Guys for having microtransactions, as it is a fun little thirty dollar title, rather than a triple A sixty dollar release with lootboxes, a season pass and a little machine that shakes you down for pennies.

Now that we're on the hate train, I'd like to take a moment to go off on a slight tangent at this point. Fall Guys doesn't need to be defended as it has an army of media outlets to do that for it. However, the discussions being had around Fall Guys, for me, are really disappointing. This really has nothing to do with the game itself and is instead about the modern media landscape.

Let me be very clear - the same people that complained about Super Mario Party being 'luck based' and how anyone can win, are the same people that will get angry when they get screwed out of winning a game of Fall Guys. I have no time for these people. Not every game needs to be an eSport, not every game needs to be treated as an ultra-serious game where we bow to conventional wisdom from those in the gaming community who have lots of success in the game. Anyone can see that Fall Guys is not that product. It's a fun little game with little eggy men. It's for everyone. Sometimes, we should allow games to just be games.

The fact that an uncoordinated idiot like me can win every once in a while is something that should be celebrated. If eight year old Timmy can make it all the way to the end of Fall Guys and win because everyone else got screwed by the game... wouldn't you cheer for him anyway?

Overall I think Fall Guys is an entertaining little game by an entertaining little studio. I'm still playing it (because it's not something you can finish, duh) with my friends from time to time. It's excellent in small sessions and plays better if you play with your mates. I don't think the game has the longevity and there will come a time where the playerbase dries up, but for now, the going is good. So if you were waiting for a pundit like me to tell you to buy it, consider this your official recommendation. Season 2, which promises another set of minigames is in the pipeline too, so it will be interesting to see how long the game's legs really are.

Catch you next time,
Vulkan

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Rowan Naveau

About Rowan Naveau

I'm Rowan (Vulkan) - and this is my blog. Here you'll find a stream of consciousness about video games, wargaming and just about everything else.