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FIRST IMPRESSIONS: FALL GUYS

FALL GUYS is a party platformer from Mediatonic, the folks behind titles like HATOFUL BOYFRIEND and the GEARS POP! Mobile game. Releasing in early August of 2020, distributor Devolver Digital arranged a beta weekend to try out the anticipated title at length, which Toisto was lucky enough to attend.

We’ve now played the game about two days and while this is not a full review — that’ll come later as the game launches — here are some initial thoughts on what can be expected from the upcoming full release.

Check out some FALL GUYS gameplay recorded during the beta weekend below.

The premise is simple: players race across treacherous terrain through multiple levels, each crazier than the last, in a bid to be the last player standing. Best described as MARIO PARTY without the board or flimsy story, FALL GUYS is just the mini-games over and over again.

Those that grew up in the 90s will most likely recognize similarities to the wonderfully demented TV series TAKESHI’S CASTLE. Others will point at the rest of us an laugh at how dated our references have become.

You play as one of the Fall Guys: gushy, bouncy and colorful creatures that you can customize with the vanity items that open up the more you play. Each session is one Show, and one Show consists of as many stages as it takes to whittle down 60 players into just the winner. So, in a sense, we’re still stuck in the battle royale genre, because of course we are. 

The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a bright, colorful and extremely good looking game. Every platform is easy to distinguish from one another and the textures pop delightfully from the background. Which is all absolutely necessary, as the experience is hectic even at the calmest moments. By the time all sixty players are in motion at once the result is absolute chaos. 

It also runs super well, something that can’t be taken for granted at the launch of a multiplayer heavy title. I experienced no stutter, no noticeable lag, and no dropped frames during my time with it. It’s especially impressive because there’s a lot of moving parts and every player is on screen all the time.

You wouldn’t think looking at it on the surface, but on a technical level FALL GUYS is a very impressive title. 

But here’s the thing: even though it’s colorful, that doesn’t stop it from being hard to play. Since this is a beta, and it’s early days yet, most of the characters look almost exactly the same, to the point that it’s sometimes painfully difficult tell where you are in the level. 

The game pretty regularly drops in-game currency known as Kudos (which you can also buy with real money) that can be used to unlock new outfits. Every level you gain also unlocks new costumes, so making your character stand out does become an option pretty quickly. But the customizing options are still quite limited, and even with vanity items in play there just isn’t enough variety to truly separate the Fall Guys from one another.

It doesn’t help either that the camera can be too erratic at times, sometimes just pointing in the wrong direction when you spawn after you fall off the board. There were multiple times that I’d respawn and take off in the wrong direction for a second or two, a choice that would often lead to being dropped from the race entirely. 

Thanks to unforgiving level design, sometimes a single stumble will mean that the entire match is done right there and then. 

This level design also wildly varies in quality. The game is promised to launch with 25 levels, but during the beta I think I only saw a handful of them. Whatever algorithm is processing the random choices clearly favors some over the others, and I could swear that I played the seesaw level way more than others. At least enough to make me not want to go back and try it again. 

Which leads to the biggest problem that FALL GUYS needs to overcome: multiplayer, or, more accurately, the lack of it. 

Yes, in theory this is strictly a multiplayer game. There is no offline campaign of any kind. But even so the entire premise is that it’s you against the world. Unless you have friends who have also bought the game and are willing to party up with you. In that case the game will try and put you in the same teams as often as possible, letting you chat with one another over VOIP. 

At launch the game also doesn’t support private rooms or cross-play, but these are things that the developers are looking into. 

But that’s really not the same, is it? Nintendo figured this out years ago: games are more fun when shared, and party games need couch co-op to survive. There’s a huge difference between your friend knocking you off the board when you can immediately laugh about it, compared to, say, a stranger griefing you without any kind of feedback on why it’s happening.

Nintendo figured this out years ago: games are more fun when shared, and party games need couch co-op to survive.

While playing the Beta I already saw this in effect: faceless gangs would form between groups of people, who then proceeded to gang up on those playing alone. It’s hard to say whether or not this was people playing online together, or just a random instance of internet superdickery, but it doesn’t really matter. Worst case scenario is that you’d lose out on levels right away because someone decided to be a jerk. 

And because much of the game doesn’t feel like it relies on skill, playing alone lacks long term appeal because it doesn’t feel like it’s a game you can actively improve in without turning into a jerk yourself. Random bumps or glitches can send you flying at any minute, often destroying any chances of continuing a race, but grabbing random players to their doom alongside you at least means less competition. This, again, is more fun when it’s someone you know, and much less so when you’re doing it to a stranger online.

Then there are the team based levels, where you and a group of others have to either collect more items or jump through hoops faster than the other teams. These need coordination, communication, or anything similar really to be fun, and without that the levels just descend into chaos where you alone can’t make a difference. 

Again, in a room with friends that’s fine – your loss happens communally. It’s shared humiliation. When you’re alone, it sucks watching everyone flail about while it becomes clear a minute into a three minute level that you’re going to lose. 

How all this translates into the full game remains to be seen. With a launch date looming just weeks away, Fall Guys still has a lot of work ahead. Now, granted, a lot of these gripes can and probably will change when I get to try out the online multiplayer (no such option was available for the beta). 

But until then FALL GUYS faces an uphill battle to convince audiences that a party game with an emphasis on solo efforts is worth the time, no matter how impressive the presentation.

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