Do you ever get the feeling, when reading a book or watching a television show or whatever, that sometimes the writers start with a cool ending and work backward from there? Or begin with a punchline and working out the joke later? Yeah? Well, Brief Battles feels like the gaming equivalent of that. A crowd-funded party fighting game which sees fighters don constantly changing undergarments which provide them with superpowers, we’ll work out the details later.
At a glance, sure it’s entertaining enough. “Hey, look at all those little people, they’re running around in their pants and fighting each other!” This initial novelty certainly was enough for me to pick up the game in the first place, but wore off after the first couple of bouts. Which, of course, is totally fair. Titles such as Duck Game and Stick Fight: The Game, which Brief Battles will inevitably be compared to, suffer from a similar loss of momentum. Here then, is where the gameplay needs to stand up and differentiate itself, but unfortunately, the only word that comes to mind is; bland.
Whilst being easy enough to adapt to, with the arena before battle providing you ample time and obstacles to hone your skills, the kit you are provided with just isn’t nuanced or varied enough to stand out from the crowd. Players can jump, ground pound and climb on walls at will, but none of it feels satisfying or precise, more throwing out maneuvers than expertly executing plans. Weapons struggle from a similar problem, bringing a smile from a kill that comes with any competent fighting game, but being unintuitive and often fiddly when trying to pull off more impressive long-range efforts.
The frustrating thing is there are nice little touches like the aforementioned arena dotted throughout Brief Battles. There’s a good selection of game modes which emphasize attack, defense, and movement in interesting ways. The maps, whilst thematically forgettable, are well designed and change-up play nicely. Even just in concept, the fact that you can originally only attack through the ground pound, emphasizing a vertical attack pattern, before picking up the horizontally orientated pant power-ups is a unique selling point; the likes of which the rest of the game is crying out for.
Typifying this, the single player offerings from this game almost made me shudder. Basic platforming and target challenges are the only things to see here, which unsurprisingly get repetitive quickly. Adding to the horror, completing these levels is the only way to unlock the rest of the fighter roster – comprised of a combination of guest characters plus a few designs from top Kickstarter donators – which thankfully replace the otherwise uninspired lineup. Grinding my way towards Yooka-Laylee and Bit Trip. Runner took me a good couple of hours, a substantial amount of content for a smaller game such as this, but by the time I reaped my rewards I was sick to death of playing.
Naturally, the main draw of Brief Battles is to be found in couch multiplayer. Things definitely pick up here, with the now-standard party fighting game format of minute-long encounters on a rapidly switching arrangement of simple maps (short, or ‘brief’, battles featuring people fighting in their underwear, or ‘briefs’, do you get it now? How clever!). All the standard game types are present, ranging from Deathmatches to King of the Hill and Hold the Item variants. With four players in the fold, things get hectic and some skill is certainly needed in order to succeed. There’s an art to knowing when to stick or twist with the current ability you hold, or when to fight or flee in the more tactically styled modes.
My biggest problem with Brief Battles is that everything is just, okay. Competently enough made, yet lacking that bit of polish which makes it stand out from the already saturated crowd. There’s nothing here to make me recommend this title to you over the other established ones on the market, which are simply of higher quality. The toilet humor present here gets old quick, with there only being so many times you can chuckle at the image of leopard print pants appearing on the screen.
Butt equally (sorry), if this style of game is right up your street, you could do a lot worse I guess. A fresh-ish take on the genre, it’s certainly possible to get engaged enough that you fail to notice the hours slipping by here. The best way I can think to express my experience with Brief Battles though is that once I put the controller down, I didn’t think about my time with the game until it came to writing this review. Like writing the punchline before the joke though, you can never quite craft the experience to the standard you thought it would, could, or probably even should be.