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Fall Guys (XS)

By Lee Mehr 17th Jul 2022 | 3,468 views 

In an era swamped with Battle Royales, Mediatonic’s cute-chaos gameshow earns a spot among the finalists.

If you've been around the genre since the ascendance of PUBG, you may be one of those select people who reflexively drowns out all noise upon hearing “Battle Royale.”  For better or worse, its rapid inundation within the market turned a once-niche mod into an expected multiplayer staple.  But by avoiding any directed combat – be it guns or melee weapons, Mediatonic's combination of this genre and platformer party games has earned it a rare spot among gaming popularity.  Sure, plenty of credit is due to expanding to more platforms (it was originally only on PC & PS4) and going free-to-play, but Fall Guys' greatest success is harnessing earnest fun.

Step into the cartoonish flat-footed shoes of a bipedal squishy Tic Tac.  As weird as that sounds, you should see their lore-accurate anatomy.  You're one of 60 players competing in various events to become the ultimate champion.  As with game shows like Takeshi's Castle or Wipeout, each qualifying round continually filters out more and more contestants until final elimination.  Like other Battle Royales, the 60 max count remains stagnant even if you wish to roll in duos or squads with buddies.

Like other party games, a substantial part of Fall Guys' charm comes from its accessibility.  With the main controls being move, look around, jump, dive, and grab, this simplistic template immediately narrows your focus to the various level hazards ahead instead of disparate move sets you'd see in Mario Party.  While I'm partial towards Party's 1v3, 2v2, free-for-all structures and that mechanical variety, these simpler intentions complement Fall Guys' quick matches; plus, it's nice to have a Battle Royale option that doesn’t harbor tryhards who purchase Mountain Dew by the gallon.

These levels will vary in personality, aesthetic, and purpose as well.  Given how the respective Xbox & Switch releases come after several seasons on PC & PlayStation, the variety of colorful standard and specially-themed maps has slowly ballooned since its original 2020 launch.  Levels can be winnowed down into three main categories: race, survival, and hunt.  There are team events too, but most in that category are really just duo-/squad-based variants of survival or hunt.

What this typically translates to is the first two rounds focused on racing.  One instance you're navigating through a successive series of real or fake walls, the next you're using giant drum lily pads to reach higher platforms.  There are a plethora of other ideas that complement the bounce-house template: see-saws, convoluted vacuum pipes, spinning knee-high beams, ginormous propeller fans, slippery slime floors, swinging trapeze bars, and so on.  There's something so preposterous and fun as dozens of you are wrestling with these dangers and each other at the same time.

As exciting as the races feel, not all rounds are created equal.  While there are some fantastic gems within survival and hunt as well, some popular recycled options feel like fillers.  Block Party is all but a guarantee lock to the next round unless your controller randomly shuts off.  Hunt modes about securing a golden tail or so-called pegwin haven't clicked for me yet because the close proximity for successfully grabbing an item doesn't feel right.  The team games where you’re temporarily grouped with enemy squads are dicey too because your success now depends on others outside your select circle.  And pray your newfound “team” doesn’t have less players if it’s a hording challenge!

Fun is also sapped when playing the plain-jane version of certain maps.  For instance: Perfect Match, a mini-game about memorizing fruit icons to specific platforms, is much better with a perpetually spinning beam keeping you on your toes.  Similarly, Door Dash without any secondary hazards feels like an incomplete thought; you're just guessing the right option and hoping you're in the top two-thirds. I appreciate Mediatonic incorporating small nuances within many of these levels, but there should be a little spice beyond the main concept by default.

Beyond the surfeit of mostly enjoyable mini-games, Fall Guys' presentation is another crucial part of its success.  From the start, there's something about the silly jellybean look to your character, the off-brand Playskool aesthetic, and Jukio Kallio and Daniel Hagström's convivial soundtrack that immediately separates it.  Its sonic gumbo in particular, with mixin's of pop, funk, a high-pitched children's choir, pleasant synths, and more, is constantly playing in my head.  The effusive happiness baked into so many beats sounds like a would-be album for a kid's toy store or play place.  

More so than just having fun looks and music, the technical chops also deserve credit.  Thus far, I've never really taken to the rubber-bones physics in titles like Gang Beasts; something about being too loose and imprecise that hasn't connected for me.  Even though these top-heavy beans with teeny legs and short arms lose balance against a strong gust of wind, Mediatonic hit a better middle ground between rigid and floppy.  You'll likely be thrown to the ground several times, but there are some imbalanced stages between remaining upright and falling over that make it more intuitive. 

Connected with that visual feedback is the sound design.  Again, similar to the technical visuals, this isn’t to say Mediatonic is unearthing brand-new technology or the like, but there’s a clear aural communication with each action and hazard.  It adds this invisible layer of silliness when too many try to fit into a tight space or get relentlessly bashed by the moving cushion pillars.  Even supplemental aural queues when individuals or teams are eliminated and tossed away like Plinko chips compliments the playful competition.

As addictive and welcoming as Fall Guys’ core is—and will continue to be, it’s a shame Mediatonic is abusing that with its microtransaction structure.  I’ll admit, it’s tougher for me to ignore the frequency of these shenanigans since Halo Infinite and Gran Turismo 7; moreover, there’s something more irksome about a kid-friendly title incorporating such unhealthy business practices.

Let me clarify what this new structure means: only the new purchasable currency, named “Show-Bucks,” nets cosmetics better than uncommon rarity on the storefront.  Granted, some levels in the free version of the season pass award Show-Bucks too, but it’s really a negligible amount.  Previous currencies, Crowns and Kudos, have undergone considerable changes.  Crowns no longer purchase costumes, instead there are set rewards behind tiers (Crown Ranks).  Instead of earning through normal play, Kudos are currently locked behind challenges, special events, and certain season pass tiers.  And since there’s no conversion of either type of old currency into Show-Bucks, you’ll eventually have to pay to get cosmetics - be it costumes, name tags, emotes, and so on - of greater rarity. 

Although this transition is expected for a free-to-play title, it’s just a shame how carefully Mediatonic has tamped down on alternate ways of getting special extras; on top of this, the standard xp rewards are lackluster.  There’s little difference between someone who barely scraped by qualifiers then ultimately lost in the final round versus someone who performs much better then wins it all.  Such artificial weights on season pass progression, along with this recent currency-shuffling, ranks among Fall Guys’ worst black marks.  To put it in a snootier way: I’m left aghast that Mediatonic is willing to go this far to endanger built-up goodwill with fans.

Aggravating free-to-play warts aside, Fall Guys’ true reward is the fun baked into the plethora of arenas.  The laggard pace it took to reach Xbox & Switch was beneficial in expanding the aesthetic and gameplay variety.  That said, not all challenges are made equal; the lesser trials feel like filler compared to the solid consistency of races, but each match is guaranteed to give you enough pizazz and excitement to come back for more.  In an era swamped with Battle Royales, Mediatonic’s cute-chaos gameshow earns a spot among the finalists.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

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This review is based on a digital copy of Fall Guys for the XS

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