We are through the looking glass here, people. The Battle Royale genre began with military shooters more serious than the nightly news, then slipped into the valley of the weird with the birth of Fortnite’s Battle Royale, and now we’ve landed squarely in the rubberised, inflatable, sunshine ball pit that is Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.
This game is the most illogical conclusion to the timeline we’ve been tracking on, but it’s a refreshing pull away from the all-too-serious shooters.
Fall Guys is bright and colourful and doesn’t have voice chat or in-game comms, so you can forget about being sworn at before the match even starts. It’s all focused on fun, fast-paced matches and bubbly visuals.
Yes, that is exactly what we need.
Fall Guys Review
If you’re like me and look back at the 90s of gaming through arcadey, rose-tinted, split-screen glasses, the characters from full guys might remind you immediately of an old PlayStation 1 game called Team Buddies, though younger readers might think more of Minions; little pill-shaped people with stubby arms and legs who are hilarious just to look at.
The whole game throws 60 players, each with their own adorably top-heavy peanut-person into a series of obstacle course levels where only the top half or so of performers get through. Then over a few rounds, the game gets whittled down to the top contender, who gets a shiny crown for their victory. The theme will be immediately familiar if you’ve ever sat up til 2 or 3 am and watched Takeshi’s Castle, or Wipeout, or any one of the other strange obstacle course gameshows.
Not Ninja Warrior, nothing here will ever be that coordinated. Fall Guys is like Ninja Warrior if everyone was drunk and had their hands and feet duct-taped to bowling balls. In a good way.
Everything is based on physics here – the little dudes flop around like you’re moving their feet and the bodies are just following along, giant inflatable boulders will careen down slopes and slam into you, sending you ragdolling around uncontrollably. And of course, the levels are littered with swinging hammers, spinning fans and rolling, wobbling platforms that make it harder to stay upright than if you were delivering milkshakes on roller skates.
The controls are super simple, you can run, jump, grab with both hands and dive forwards. But within that there are plenty of things you can do that expand the game, you can grab other players, jump and dive to get over swinging fans, jump, grab and climb over other obstacles instead of going around. It’s a simple set of actions, but refined to a point that you can experiment and find new ways of using them.
Each map generally takes two minutes or less, before a new randomly selected map comes up for those who haven’t been knocked out. Then the series of four or so maps probably takes 10-15 minutes at the max, making this a really easy game to pick up and play.
Ready, set, roll!
Onto some specifics – the first match I played had 60 of us wobbly dudes running full speed at six doors, two of which were real. Hitting a fake one means it stays closed and you bounce off it like a three stooges flick. Find the right one and the door flies off, and 60 players all try to squeeze through at once, which is also kinda like a three stooges flick.
Suffice to say I ended that run at the bottom of a pile of Fall Guys, outside a fake door and was eliminated. Good thing getting back in took less than a minute, so I was off to the races again.
The next map was a series of see-sawing platforms over a bubbling pool of slime. The platforms rise and fall as players make their way across, more players make one end fall faster and the other rising. It feels like it takes a lot of coordination and patience, but good luck getting a swarming blob of 60 online players to coordinate something like that.
The very best levels have multiple layers – some where you’re racing from point A to B, over spinning beams and under swinging hammers, then getting knocked down to a lower level slathered in slippery goo with giant balls rolling at you.
There’s also a mix of every-man-for-himself style races or survival levels, as well as some team-based levels that sport three coloured groups looking to score giant soccer balls into goals ala Rocket League, or steal eggs from the other team’s baskets while protecting their own.
It’s all sunshine and rainbows – with hammers and slime
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a perfect example of picking a visual style and sticking with it. Everything in the game is colourful and bubbly and built either like a bouncy castle or like a playground. Even the corners of blocks that make up the levels look like they’re made of plastic that’s been stretched to fit in place.
It’s those little attention to detail pieces that make me think a lot of care has gone into developing the look and feel of these levels. Even the music is an upbeat mix of synth and K-pop style hype music that you might find in a late-night arcade. It’s just bubbly enough to blend in with the gameplay, and not so distinctive that you’ll notice different tracks repeating. It does a great job of feeling part of the whole package.
Even if you get knocked out, you can easily stay on and spectate other players, just to see the different levels and get ideas on how to tackle it next time, which I did more than once.
All this being said, there are a couple of things that aren’t perfect.
Many of you will know that over the first days since release, the game has had its share of hiccups, primarily with server outages due to overwhelming player numbers according to the (incredibly wholesome) Fall Guys Twitter feed.
These issues have mostly been resolved, though I have still had a few dropouts mid-match, some lag spikes that see players ping-pong around like rubber balls and one instance of the next level selector spinning endlessly between matches.
The grabbing controls do feel quite loose – more than once I was sure that I’d grabbed a player, or an egg we were trying to collect, or ball we needed to score with only to have it slip off in another direction. I do wish for the left-hand right-hand grab of something like Gang Beasts or Human Fall Flat, but you can’t nail everything.
These are all things that can be worked on with networking patches, and ongoing work from the team if the game stays as popular over the next weeks as it has been over the past days.
It will be very interesting to see the post-launch content on this one. I can see variety becoming an issue since the levels are so short and quite the same after a few run throughs, but that’s easily fixed with the occasional injection of new content.
There is an in-game store for cosmetics that allows you to buy new pieces for your Fall Guy, from top pieces of costumes like space men, dinosaurs, pirates and the obligatory Gordon Freeman with a Head Crab for PC. Then there’s emotes, different player colours and patterns too.
So far the game’s been generous with the in-game currency, after a few rounds I was able to grab a spotted love-heart pattern for my pants and a pirate or pineapple outfit for my top. Though if you are impatient, that currency can be purchased for real dosh.
So this is where we are, the Battle Royale genre has landed squarely in the valley of the weird. In about a minute I can jump into a game with 60 players dressed in bright colours, no one swearing in chat or bad mouthing each other, then engage in 10-15 minutes of bouncing, flopping, and racing to the finish line.
And if I lose? Another minute and I can do it again.
Because when it comes down to it, do I want to spend a Tuesday night running around on a jumping castle dressed as a pirate with spotted-heart underwear?
Yes. Yes I do.
Fall Guys was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the publisher.