I wasn’t even aware of Speed Brawl until just shortly before launch, due to the launch trailer and opening animation gorgeously animated by Titmouse (Black Dynamite, Indivisible). It seemed like a fun and fast beat em’up to play in an afternoon, but I had absolutely no idea what I was about to get myself into.
Title: Speed Brawl
Developer: Double Stallion
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided By the Developer
Interface: Keyboard & Mouse, Controller
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Speed Brawl takes place in a fictional version of late 1800s London, where the titular fights are a popular form of entertainment. Each Speed Brawl is made up of three separate runs and focus on how fast a pair of brawlers can defeat a group of enemies or a boss. There are four Speed Brawl leagues each with several levels which unlock as you progress, with the final level of each league featuring a boss fight at the end.
During a Speed Brawl run, you play as two of six unlockable characters, with only two available at the start, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. The characters I played with the most are starter character Ebba and unlockable character Cassie, since they’re faster than the heavier characters, even though they didn’t deal as much damage. Although it’s suggested you pair a fast character with a heavy character, it’s not necessary. and I found heavy characters to be just a little too slow in their movement even with a few speed increases, preferring my faster pair. Damage output can be increased with gear gained from getting through all three runs of a Speed Brawl or by buying them at one of the four unlockable shops. Better scores in a Speed Brawl reward better gear as well as an increase in fame level. Some gear can also give enemies status afflictions, such as poisoned or concussed, which help immensely when trying to take down groups of enemies as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In addition to specific equippable gear, each player character has their own skill tree where new abilities are purchased with skill points gained from increasing your aforementioned fame level, which can only be increased by completing Speed Brawls and challenges, or from receiving a higher ranking medal on another run. These skill trees include health, speed, and damage increases, as well as enhancements for each characters special attack. To use special attacks, you have to first build up your focus by fighting enemies, and once full you can unleash your full fury for a brief moment. These special attacks are another useful way to clear enemies, although they can’t be used often until you’ve really honed your skills.
Enemies primarily consists of various giant bugs and a few human enforcers, with stronger and craftier versions appearing in later leagues. Most of the time enemies aren’t too tough to beat but the stronger enemies take longer if you aren’t adequately equipped and will lower your score as well as how much time is added depending on how long it takes you to squash them. Depending on your surroundings you can also use the environment to your advantage by kicking off of walls or swinging around poles, gaining a slight speed boost from the latter, as well as barrels and swinging pendulums to help you knock enemies around. The jumping enemies and exploding enemies are the peskiest to fight, as the brawlers don’t jump that fast until they get their movement speed increased from skills or equipped gear, and even then you could be scrambling to catch and defeat them. Additionally, there’s an auto float at jump apex feature automatically turned on which makes jumping from one platform to another slower, but this can easily be turned off.
At the end of the final run of the last Speed Brawl in the league you fight a boss, which are the most difficult enemies in the game besides time itself. On the first boss it took me several tries until I finally and just barely managed to defeat it by utilizing just about everything I had at my disposal and switching between characters as soon as one got knocked down — a quicker and better option then waiting for them to get back up. This is where I first noticed an ongoing problem: even if you have the strongest gear available, depending on your skill level and understanding of the gameplay mechanics, you can still have plenty of trouble. Additionally, if you already have gold medals on all the other Speed Brawls and challenges, the only way to increase you fame level and obtain more skill points is to just keep practicing until you eventually complete the level you’ve been stuck on. Since the areas don’t change, it’s not as big of a problem as it could be, but still seems unfair at certain points.
Later Speed Brawls also add in new mechanics, such as the Rage Meter. The Rage Meter fills up as you attack enemies, but decreases if you slow down or get hit, and once it has been filled, you’re clear to move on to the next section. Additional challenges like this get you to really focus on speed, meaning you’ll have to get plenty of practice as you progress. Going back to earlier levels and seeing just how long it takes you to beat them after improving is also a great way to measure your progress if you feel like you’ve been stuck on a later level.
The previously mentioned Challenges are optional, but necessary if you need money for better gear or want to give your fame level experience a small boost. Challenges primarily consist of getting from one pole to another under a time limit, while later challenges throw in additional objectives such as targets for the players to hit. These challenges can be difficult, but feel appropriately rewarding when getting the bronze medal or repeating them for a higher rank medal.
The biggest problem I have with Speed Brawl are the controls. How the controls are mapped is fine (and luckily they can easily be remapped in any version), but they never felt as fluid as they should be. I understand that it’s going for a classic beat’em up style with a stiffer feel, but I feel it’s a major contrast to the smooth art style and animation. Additionally, trying to focus between managing your time wisely, attacking fast enough to get a good score, and trying to avoid getting knocked down from enemy attacks becomes a demanding task as you progress in the subsequent leagues, no matter how strong your available gear is. Some increase in fluidity all around would definitely help the more difficult parts of Speed Brawl become less infuriating for less experienced players.
As I stated previously, what intrigued me most about Speed Brawl is the art style. It’s crisp, clean, and reminiscent of both anime/manga and anime inspired comic books. In addition to the comic book style cutscenes there’s also a codex where you can view and read about each individual gameplay concept, brawler, enemy, and piece of gear, adding more depth to the world. There’s nothing really terrible about the art style unless it just doesn’t suit your tastes. The music on the other hand, isn’t great and sounds relatively generic, despite its style being a decent fit.
Speed Brawl is a fine game with an intriguing yet simple concept, but I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone trying to get into the beat em’ up genre or those seeking something to play for an afternoon due to their nostalgia for the arcade titles of yesteryear. It seems those most inclined to try out Speed Brawl are beat’em up enthusiasts seeking a new challenge, especially amusing individuals who get a thrill from timed challenges. Those who appreciate a smooth art style and detailed lore may also be able to get some extra enjoyment out of it.