Even though it may be a flashy, super-hero themed sports game on its surface, undoubtedly taking a high degree of skill to master, HyperBrawl Tournament may perhaps be more fun to watch than it is to play.
From a spectator standpoint, it's not hard to follow along with the game's basic premise. Two teams of two will engage in combat while simultaneously trying to score by throwing a ball into their opponent's goal. Each of the 12 arenas featured in the game also includes obstacles of varying difficulty, many of which will move dynamically; one stadium may also be hazardous to opponents.
Watching the ball go from end to end of the screen and eventually into the goal, especially between highly skilled teams, is quite entertaining, as the HyperCurve feature - the game's main gimmick - can be used to make the ball change course after it's been thrown. Additionally, the HyperForce charges up your character's fighting ability. All of this does a good job of making you want to play the game. It's once you're in the game, however, that you're met with several problems with the HyperBrawl Tournament's mechanics.
One issue stems specifically from using a mouse and keyboard. Naturally, playing on PC, you'd be correct to assume that using a mouse for rotating and aiming your character would be faster and more precise than using a controller. However, because the game's full-screen mode doesn't lock the cursor to the screen's center, or at least confine it to the application's screen resolution, you'll find yourself clicking off the game's screen and pausing the game if you're using a multi-monitor set-up. It's a minor annoyance while playing offline, but online the pause menu is displayed while the game itself obviously cannot be paused, resulting in a frustrating experience.
Sadly the frustrations don't end there. Because of the fixed, zoomed-out camera angle and characters having full eight-way-movement, it's often hard to see which direction you're facing, or worse yet, the direction you're attacking in. Oftentimes it can be confusing to see which direction you're punching, which is further hindered by the HyperForce's bright, lightning effects that cover the player's body. Usually, games of this style will slightly inflate hands and feet to make it clear to the player which action is being performed, but that isn't the case here and it cannot be stressed enough how much this game needs a better way to indicate to the player their actions.
Not doing much to remedy the frustration is the overall sound design. The sound effects themselves come off as unoriginal - as if they're stock sounds. The voice acting from the narrator and announcer are done very well, although it would be nice if there were other in-game announcers to compliment the one, as hearing the same jokes every game gets old, despite how engaged in the match he seems to be.
Additionally, once you've scored a few times over your opponent, because rounds are short (lasting only 90 seconds), running out the clock becomes a viable strategy. There's seemly no mechanic in place to counteract this. The ball itself could have a detonation timer on it that explodes if it's not passed to another player, for example, but something should be done to keep the ball from being stalled by players in the lead. There's both a scoring system and also rounds, which makes for a pseudo-checkpoint system. So once the lead is lost you must win succeeding rounds to win the game, with scores resetting to zero after each round.
On the subject of the visuals, while the arenas themselves look great, several of HyperBrawl Tournament's characters lack originality. One closely resembles Marvel's Dr. Doom, while another looks like John Rambo, and the remainder are fairly bland and uninspiring. It really does a disservice to the otherwise colorful, detailed maps. Some use bright, neon colors to give off a clean, cosmic, futuristic feel but in a way that's not distracting to the eye or otherwise off-putting. Themes range from ancient arenas, to war bases, to metallic robot manufacturing facilities, and more besides. It's just a shame that the characters themselves don't convey that same level of inspiration.
Other good points for Hyperbrawl Tournament involve its set of training modes, ranging from free training to goal-specific trials. The former should be used to practice at your own pace, however it's impossible to set-up for realistic scenarios as you have no control over the enemy characters or arenas used in the free training mode. Goal-specific trials are pretty straight forward in bringing the player up to speed with the game's various mechanics and systems, though.
After you've trained yourself on the game's basics, offline modes include arcade and campaign, with the former being for local play with up to four players. In the latter, you select a team (which is essentially nothing more than a themed palette swap for your characters) and play in a tournament bracket for trophies and experience points.
The online blitz mode can be a bit confusing, as sometimes it appears that you're matched up against bots, not actually playing against human opponents, and the only way to ensure you play against human opponents online is by creating a private match and inviting friends. Fortunately there are no noticeable issues with netplay to be reported on, and the overall experience felt identical to the game's offline modes.
With so many other things going against it the level progression is sadly a player's best encouragement to come back for more. As you level up you'll unlock additional characters, each with their own unique set of stats, and thankfully these don't seem to invalidate the starting cast. In addition to character unlocks you'll also earn artifacts (this game's version of loot boxes), awarding you random cosmetic options for the game's characters, including additional skins, goal-scoring effects (called "goal blaze"), and different colors for ball trails. Playing through the game also awards you with credits that you can spend to get exactly what you're after, however keep in mind that some skins and effects are only available through paid DLC.
With all that being said, we're left with a game that looks inviting and has plenty of its cogwheels rotating in good working order. However, the gameplay - the thing that should hold the entire experience together - is jammed. Despite wanting to like HyperBrawl Tournament, and giving it numerous chances, the gameplay was simply too frustrating. I never felt like it was a case of me needing to improve, but rather that there were too many issues with the game that prevented me from having fun or feeling like I could realistically progress my skills, from the pause menu randomly showing on the screen, to my character missing punches because they weren't facing the direction they appeared to be facing, to the AI doing single frame 360-degree spins and punching me. Even still, it holds true for me that HyperBrawl Tournament is very much fun to watch, but that ultimately means someone needs to play it.
This review is based on a digital copy of HyperBrawl Tournament for the PC, provided by the publisher.
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