The success of Battle Royale phenoms PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite has of course resulted in a glut of me-too efforts following in their footsteps, yet few finding truly unique and creative ways to re-imagine the fast-tiring genre.
The gentle brilliance of Devolver Digital’s Fall Guys, then, lies in throwing the weapons and gore away and re-contextualising the genre in the vein of cult fave game show Takeshi’s Castle.
As someone with a limited tolerance (and time!) for multiplayer fare these days, it’s a pleasure to report that this ludicrously loony 60-player assault course Battle Royale romp is the most compulsively addictive online game I’ve encountered since Rocket League launched five years ago. And similarly, it’s made the smart approach to release “free” as part of PlayStation Plus, hopefully ensuring a healthy player-base on at least one platform for the foreseeable future.
The setup is deliciously simple; players take control of an anthropomorphic jelly bean as they attempt to run, dive, grab, and most of all luck themselves to first place across a series of elimination-style rounds, netting them the winner’s crown over 59 other hopefuls.
Fall Guys‘ masterstroke is that the rounds are all chosen from a random pool of 25, kicking off with an hilarious introductory scramble before players are portioned off into a team game or two, and the remaining players are then forced to battle to the bitter end until only one emerges victorious.
With the state of the world being what it is right now, there’s something comforting about a game that’s low on actual violence – unless you consider tripping over fellow jelly beans violent, that is. As such, this game is basically the perfect antidote to the recent morbid brilliance of The Last of Us Part II.
With its funky fresh art style, awash in intentionally garish primary colours and some surprisingly impressive texture work – the jelly beans are shockingly articulated, especially in 4K – Fall Guys is a game that’s far more appealing to look at than it ever needed to be to succeed. And let’s not forget the Splatoon-esque musical score, which adds another endearing layer to the game’s charming aesthetic.
But in many ways it’s the animation and physics which help the game graduate beyond being a transitory pleasure; running, tripping, and jumping around the various levels is a gut-bustingly hilarious exercise, such that even when you get thrown 50 feet by a spinning platform or dog-piled by a fleet of your rivals, it’s tough to ever feel mad or short-changed by the outcome.
Though it does have to be said that not all of the mini-games are created equal – the ball-centric and grab-the-tail games in particular suffer from some inconsistent, even janky physics – the breakneck pacing and smooth transitions between rounds ensure it never dares to be truly frustrating or, gasp, not-fun.
The hypnotic, dopamine-soaked joy which follows the realisation that one of your favourite mini-games is about to start – in my case the team-based Egg Scramble and insanely tense final round Hex-A-Gone – is basically worth the price of admission alone.
In failure there’s also plenty of happiness on offer, even if the despair of making it within a whisker of victory speaks for itself. Tellingly, this is the most emotionally invested I’ve felt playing a multiplayer game since, yes, Rocket League.
It is a game that, in every fiber of its being, just works. I have struggled to pull myself away after multi-hour sessions, and though there’s a fundamental sense of simple repetition to the game, and it’s certainly not as mechanically deep as Rocket League, I just couldn’t stop playing. And yet at the same time, matchmaking is swift enough that Fall Guys is perfectly suited to a 10-minute play session also.
Outside of the actual gameplay loop itself, there are myriad customisation options available to players, who can use their points earned in-game to unlock an array of cosmetic outfits – my favourite so far being the adorable pineapple costume – and also splash real-life cash on additional outfits. But at launch none of this affects the crucially level playing field, which has a wonderfully childlike purity to it.
This effusive praise aside, there’s certainly more that could be done to tighten things up; the physics and collision detection feel far from perfect during the aforementioned team games, and anyone wearing the pineapple costume may well forget which team they’re on due to the baffling lack of colour-coding options. It may also behoove developers Mediatonic to implement more granular matchmaking, such as allowing players to disable team-based rounds should they crave a more focused assault course experience.
But the game as it stands is nevertheless a remarkable achievement; a narcotic multiplayer blast which should appeal near-equally to players both young and old. As long as Mediatonic continues to update it with new modes and quality-of-life fixes, and its player-base doesn’t dwindle any time soon – which, going by its day-one metrics, seems unlikely – Fall Guys has all the potential in the world to be a major multiplayer mainstay for years to come.
For anyone long-tired of self-serious, ultra-violent Battle Royale games, Fall Guys is an arm-flailingly silly rebuke, and one of the most deliriously entertaining multiplayer games I’ve played in years.
+ Absurdly addictive core gameplay loop.
+ Cute, colourful visuals and inspired art style.
+ Snappy matchmaking and game pacing.
+ Peppy music and sound effects.
– Some janky mini-games.
– Lack of matchmaking options.
Reviewed on PC (also available on PS4).
A retail copy was purchased for review.