The crown was in sight. All that stood between me and ultimate victory were a bunch of colorful “Power Rangers” rejects. They don’t stand a chance against me, I think to myself, as my bright-pink, jelly bean-shaped avatar does his calisthenics.
The countdown ends. The race is on. My character wobbles forward, clad in a pair of sequin shorts that would have any teenage fashionista green with envy. (They’re gold, of course.) Chaos of all manner flies at me: I avoid the swinging hammer, but the giant ball slams into me, knocking me down and back down the course.
I begin to panic; I starting to sweat. I mean, I know my character also failed the screen test to become the latest evil grunt on a Saturday morning cartoon, but that’s no reason for me to be behind. But that one mistake is costing me, and I see victory falling out of reach. The racer in first, decked out in a wolf head and chicken feet, makes a beautiful leap — and captures the crown, leaving the rest of the lobby in despair.
But then you hear the ubiquitous sound of a new round starting, and the despair lifts, replaced by the joy that awaits you in another round of “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.”
Battle royale meets ‘Wipeout’
“Fall Guys” takes the “last one standing wins” approach of the over-saturated battle royale game genre — populated by “Fortnite,” “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and, as of late, “Spellbreak” — and adds all the color, charm and chaos you could imagine — and it’s an absolute blast.
In “Fall Guys,” developed by Mediatonic and published by Digital Devolver, you’re far removed from the violence and weaponry that litter the giants of the genre, and instead all you have is a cute little jelly bean character that can run, jump, grab and … well, that’s about it. No weapons, no powerups, no nothing. Just you, your wits and the madness of about 60 other players striving to win the crown amid levels that would be more at home in an episode of “Wipeout” or “Takeshi’s Castle.”
Your goal is simple: Guide your personalized avatar (the aforementioned jelly beans) through a series of rounds, besting your opponents while avoiding myriad obstacles along the way. Qualify for the final round, and you have a chance of winning a coveted golden crown. But while the premise is simple, the execution is anything but.
You would think a game that basically operates on two buttons and analog sticks wouldn’t have the same intensity as a competitive match of “Warzone,” but the child-like aesthetic conceals a surprising amount of nuance. Yes, you’re a jelly bean running though arenas that looked like they got ripped from “Sugar Rush” from “Wreck-It Ralph,” but complacency will get you smacked by a giant piece of fruit or consumed by a sea of hot-pink slime.
If you do find yourself succumbing to a course’s adorably devious obstacles, you have the option of spectating the remaining participants as they proceed, which gives you the chance to learn new tactics and check out levels you might not be familiar with. (Or, you can provide color commentary as your friends progress without you, highlighting each mistake they make. Just saying.)
A 24-course delight
The heart of “Fall Guys” is chaos. And the game’s two dozen courses gleefully revel in that hyper-colorful maelstrom, pitting you against wacky physics, goofy obstacles courses and — most critically — dozens of other players. The modes alternate between races, survival, teams and finals.
Most of the courses are well-designed: fair, but challenging, and with more than one path to take to succeed. The Whirlygig and Fall Mountain, both obstacle-style courses, are my favorites at the moment because they hit that perfect balance. Other challenges, such as Slime Climb and Fruit Chute, make me want to pull my hair out because of the level of punishment they dish out. (It also doesn’t help that I happen to be terrible at the latter two.)
Some challenges, though, don’t quite hit the mark, particularly the team-based ones. Remember, this is a battle royale, and even when playing with friends, only one jelly bean can come out on top. So, to be forced to play the “Fall Guys” equivalent of soccer or team tag just feels out of place. (And don’t even get me going on the rage-inducing See Saw and the fact that no one online seems to understand basic physics.)
Completing a round will net you in-game currency, known as Kudos, and experience, known as Fame; if you win the final round, you earn a crown, which also is a form of currency. With said Kudos and crowns, you can customize to your heart’s content in the shop, which rotates through a selection of cosmetic items. Rarer items will cost you crowns instead of Kudos, and since it’s much more difficult to earn said crowns, those items are harder to obtain. You also can purchase kudos with real money, though the game is pretty generous in throwing Kudos your way. “Fall Guys'” version of a battle pass — which is leveled up by the Fame you accumulate — also grants Kudos, crowns and cosmetics, and is a nice incentive to keep playing, even if you don’t make it through most of your rounds.
On a related note, those purchases are purely visual; there’s no pay-to-win mechanics, no gacha-style loot boxes, none of that nonsense. You earn (or buy) Kudos, you spend said Kudos. Refreshing, I know.
Visually, it’s been mentioned that the game is soaked in color, but it totally works. Everything is bright and cheery, and it feels like that’s the only way it could have been for “Fall Guys.” And you pair all that crisp color with a jamming, if limited soundtrack (would you believe each track has the word “fall” in it?), and you have a gorgeous, pulse-pounding combination.
The first few days after released saw some serious server issues (it was difficult to even load into a game, much less play), though the game’s performance has smoothed out since. (It takes about a minute for a lobby of about 60 to fill now.) Some lag still is noticeable, which is really frustrating at times (especially if it causes you to lose), but that’s the risk of online gaming.
I only have two real complaints for the game on a technical level. The first: It lacks the ability to make custom matches. It would be a fantastic addition to be able to create your own little version of chaos and duke it out with all your friends. Something for the future, perhaps. The second: Much like any online competitive game, cheaters abound. Mediatonic has done a decent job dealing with them (on Sept. 15, the developer announced it would be using Epic Games’ Easy Anti-Cheat software to deal with these scoundrels), but you’re still likely to run into some.
Updates and keeping the game fresh are going to be imperative if “Fall Guys” wants to maintain its momentum past the summer. So far, Mediatonic seems to be keenly aware of that. Its midseason patch introduced a new obstacle called, I kid you not, the Big Yeetus, and also remixed the levels. And Season 2, which is expected in October, is set to take on a more medieval theme. (I’m way too excited for those new costumes.)
In the end, “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout” was just the game we needed in the middle of 2020. It’s simple yet competitive, family-friendly but fun for all ages. It’s color and charm and chaos all wrapped up into a delightful package. You’ll have frustrating moments (I know I did), but it’ll all be worth it once you’ve gotten your first crown. You know you’re having a good time when you’re unceremoniously shoved off a platform by a giant fan blade and can’t wait to get back to the race. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” the saying goes. All I know is that I’ll take the heaviest head if it means I have all the crowns. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.
Contact critic Dominic Baez at email@example.com or 541-338-2263, and follow him on Twitter @Silver_Screenin and Instagram @cafe_541. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.
Video game review
“Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout”
Four stars out of five
Rated: E for Everyone for mild cartoon violence
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (also available on PC)
Publisher/developer: Digital Devolver/Mediatonic