Every once in a while, an indie game launches during the sleepy days of summer and becomes a surprise hit. It happened with “Rocket League” in 2015, and it’s happening again with “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.”
The title has come out of nowhere to become one of the most streamed games on Twitch, and it has Twitter abuzz as more and more players discover it. “Fall Guys” will remind players of game shows such as “MXC” or “Wipeout,” programs that put contestants through grueling obstacle courses to comedic effect.
Although it seems accurate on the surface, the game’s real antecedent lies in “Mario Party” and the battle royale games such as “Fortnite.” The developers over at Mediatonic stumbled onto a perfect meld of the two, and in the process, they created a party game tailored to the coronavirus age.
One of the beauties about “Fall Guys” is that it isn’t complicated, making it accessible to nearly everyone. Players move around their characters and they have buttons to let them jump, dive and grab. From there, players are thrown into a series of games and obstacle courses, in which a set number of contestants can win. Each round winnows down the collective mass of up to 60 competitors until one is left standing.
The fun in “Fall Guys” comes from the unadulterated chaos. When you throw 60 people into an obstacle course and add unforgiving physics, players will see their jelly bean-like avatars tumble forward at choke points, creating a pile-up of bodies. Elsewhere, they’ll be whacked by propellers and their characters will fly helplessly across the screen. In tense situations, competitors will jostle and push each other off the edge of a platform to survive.
Losing can be infuriating and it sometimes is, but “Fall Guys” cycles through rounds so quickly that angry thoughts dissipate as players are thrown into another contest. The quick turnover keeps them engaged as they tackle three types of competitions. Obstacle courses are almost always the first, and it whittles down the crowd to about 40 or so. From there, players encounter survival games where they have to stay alive for a certain period of time as they jump over rotating arms or try to snag a tail before the time limit runs out in a game resembling tag.
Occasionally, players will encounter team matches, in which the crowd is divided into groups and they have to work together. They can face off in a version of soccer called Fall Ball, or in Rock ‘N’ Roll, they’ll have to collaborate and try to push a ball to the end of a course. The teams are mostly ad hoc, though players in personal parties will be thrown in together. Like the rest of “Fall Guys,” the teams feel impromptu and abide by the theme of controlled chaos.
The final round games have the smallest crowds — usually fewer than 10 contestants. This is when the competition gets the most intense, and because there’s only one winner, it becomes cutthroat. In Hex-A-Gone, players will try to knock off a rival or eliminate the tiles near them. It’s a contest where platforms disappear as characters walk on them and the last person to not fall in the slime is the winner. Royal Fumble is essentially like Tail Tag except only one person can achieve victory.
For novices, the games can be bewildering but entertaining. As they play more, they’ll discover the quirks, tricks and tactics that work for each level. They’ll discover that Gate Crash is all about trying to predict when a door will open and timing their sprint to hit it right at that moment. Perfect Match is about memorization and observation as players keep an eye on the produce on the floor so that they can jump on the right platform when a specific fruit is called out. The platforms without that fruit disappear and contestants fall into the slime.
Despite its simple premise, “Fall Guys” has some depth to it and the multitude of human interactions means that players will always see something different during a match. The game’s progression system also gives players an incentive to stay with “Fall Guys.” Each round players earn kudos, the in-game currency that lets them buy new costumes. If they grab the elusive crown, they earn the harder-to-get currency of the same name and that is used for fancier cosmetic items.
Lastly, there’s also the seasonality of “Fall Guys.” If it’s anything like “Fortnite” or “Player Unknown’s Battleground,” players should expect new content every season. I doubt that players will be playing this professionally, but it fits a spot like “Mario Kart” in racing.
“Fall Guys” is magic because it distills a party atmosphere, in which the more players who compete, the merrier the gameplay will be. In that chaos, anything can happen. Expert players can have a bit of bad luck and fall to last place, failing to make the cut. Novices could inadvertently knock a Level 20 veteran into the slime and eliminate the contestant from contention. Part of the joy in “Fall Guys” and in most party games is the notion that anyone can win.
With real life parties being curtailed because of COVID-19, games like “Fall Guys” is one of the few ways that players can find that raucous atmosphere. It’s a way to feel the energy of a crowd while also staying safe at home. It’s a game that’s perfect for the summer of 2020 and for whatever lies beyond for the rest of the year.
‘Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout’
4 stars out of 4Platform: PlayStation 4, PCRating: Everyone
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Author: Gieson Cacho