Lego Brawls looks like it belongs among the resurgence of side-scrolling, cartoonish fighting games that have recently cropped up to join the ranks of Nintendo’s beloved Super Smash Bros. series. But expecting it to be much of a fighting game, with all the complexity that entails, would be a mistake. Lego Brawls is more accurately described as the items side of a Smash Bros. fight–a whole lot of unpredictable, intense chaos, with a fairly low skill ceiling and a high degree of approachability.
We played a few rounds of Lego Brawls at Summer Game Fest, including both its single-player and couch co-op matches. In single-player, you go into eight-player matches, which can also be played online, where two teams fight their way through different Lego-themed locations, bashing each other and trying to capture specific spots on the map in order to earn points. It’s similar to Smash Bros. and other fighting games in its presentation and map design, but that’s about all.
In terms of the actual experience, Lego Brawls is more about embracing chaos. Each player gets a melee object they can bash opponents with, a dash for getting away from incoming beat-downs, and a double-jump for getting around. You have a health meter that determines how much of a wallop you can take, but melee fights generally are pretty simplistic–your real goal is to find items. As in a Smash Bros. game, certain items randomly spawn around the map, giving you weapon power-ups of three different classes, each better than the last.
The items provide access to better gear, which you determine with your loadout. For instance, I choose a plunger as my melee weapon, and an alien blaster, ice cream truck, and dragon as the other items in my loadout. I don’t get access to those other weapons until I find the items in the map, allowing me to call out my ice cream truck, say, and drive it around the map. The truck has armor, offering extra protection from attacks, and hits harder than my plunger, but it only lasts a limited time. So the idea is that you’re hoping to find items that give you access to your best gear so you can turn the tides of a battle, or blast away at some other player’s better weapons and keep them from crushing your team.
The inclusion of those items means that every fight is a nonsensical combination of ludicrous elements, like space ships, horseback knights, giant robots, and whatever else might exist in the various Lego sets that make up Brawls. Playing alone, I took part in an eight-player match against the AI, but even with non-humans, the whole thing created a delightful storm of nonsense. Brawls’ controls don’t require a ton of skill to play or excel with, but the game makes up for that approachability by forcing you to anticipate, strategize around, and deal with a bunch of goofy mayhem.
Though you have multiple items at your disposal for your loadout, they’re equalized by tier–so while my dragon could breathe fire, it was no more powerful than whatever another player might equip into that same spot, like a spaceship. By the same token, my melee plunger is equal to a glowing green alien sword. The ice cream truck plays different from another item you might choose in its place, but it doesn’t give you an advantage over other players’ choices, which allows you to pick items based on aesthetics and play style. In fact, you’re encouraged to get pretty ridiculous with your weapon and character choices.
As you play through Lego Brawls, you’re always earning experience points that unlock pieces from various Lego sets. When you start, whether alone or with friends, you choose a Lego “theme,” and your play time then goes to unlocking pieces from that particular theme. A few we saw included classic Lego sets like Castle and Space, as well as newer ones such as Ninjago and Jurassic Park. That last set was the only licensed theme that popped up during our play time, and it’s unclear whether you can expect to see other licensed sets in the future. But there definitely will be more themes, all of which will be free, and which can come into the game either as updates or limited-time offerings for different in-game events.
The themes added what was possibly the most fun aspect of Lego Brawls–creating an absolutely idiotic character with which to smack around your friends. I built an awful-looking clown-cowboy hybrid wielding a deadly plunger, complete with the horse the cowboy should be riding, which was more like a horse-shaped apron that my clown wore on his chest. Editor Jordan Ramee, on the other hand, quickly put together some kind of scarred and scary pirate character wielding a pair of melee cheerleading pom-poms. And the aforementioned Jurassic Park set included all the characters from that franchise’s movies, including the shirtless Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm. You can take pieces from any character or set and mix them together, so while I made a clown cowboy, I absolutely wish I had constructed a hot shirtless clown chaotician.
While the larger eight-player matches are relegated to single-player or online play, couch co-op fights are smaller free-for-all bouts with up to four players. Our match, in a tightly built volcano that had the same vibes as Smash’s Planet Zebes level, did away with our loadout weapons because of the smaller scale. Instead, each map has its own specific items you can find scattered around the arenas. The volcano sported bows that offered a significant range advantage, and horses you could ride to plow through your opponents. Ultimately, though, it was the lava that proved our worst opponent–although video producer Dave Klein was a formidable foe as well, ultimately besting both the rodeo clown and pirate cheerleader.
Lego Brawls isn’t likely to replace other couch co-op fighting games, but it doesn’t need to. Instead, it provides an over-the-top take on party gameplay all its own, made all the more enjoyable by its ridiculous customization options. You might not spend hours learning characters and perfecting combos, but Lego Brawls seems like it’ll provide a good time with friends, especially those who aren’t hardcore gamers. Look for it on Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on September 2.
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