Speed Brawl

A game by Double Stallion Games for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2018.
Speed Brawl is set in London in an alternate 1888 where the British Empire emerged victorious in a war against insect invaders from the moon, and Queen Victoria led efforts to rebuild the city. With the help of Hugo Wells, the Selenites were defeated and their queen killed, and so Wells himself assumed control over the army of insects. Under his command, the drone-like creatures were enslaved and ordered into labor, which ushered in an great industrial revolution, allowing the middle class more time to pursue activities of leisure. To meet this need and placate the masses, a gladiatorial sport was introduced where the strongest warriors would fight against insect enemies in arenas, with victory allowing them to move up the ranks into more difficult tournaments. This sport came to be known as Speed Brawl.

As you may have guessed, Speed Brawl is a brawler with a heavy focus on speed. Players enter a sidescrolling arena with a pair of fighters and must bash insectoid enemies into oblivion as quickly as possible, with par times for each course. Simply surviving from one end of the level to the other isn’t enough; players need to move efficiently and make strategic use of their more powerful abilities. Each event awards gold, silver, or bronze medals based solely on speed, and getting higher medals unlocks better gear to enhance the player’s strength, defense, special attacks, and secondary abilities.

The game opens with a playable prologue, which leaves the player to fumble about a bit as he is given no instructions as to how the game works, nor is there a HUD to display health or stamina. Once the prologue ends, a well-produced anime-style opening cutscene plays out, offering an upbeat pace as the Speed Brawl tournament is introduced, along with the insect menace, and plenty of shots of the teal-haired heroine smashing her way through them… eventually joined by a couple of her friends.

When the game begins, you take on the role of Ebba and Bia. Ebba is the one with the spikey teal hair, and she is the faster of the two, whereas Bia is slower but stronger. An opening tutorial arena explains the controls, starting with a basic attack that can be chained into a 3-hit combo, and players can press UP to strike enemies above them, and press DOWN while jumping to strike enemies below. Jumping allows the player to hover in the air a bit, and knocking enemies upward similarly causes them to hover, allowing the player to send enemies flying into the air, and then following up with aerial strikes or a downward smash.

A heavy strike allows the player to unleash a stronger attack at the cost of stamina, and each use of this ability drains the stamina bar completely. Stamina recharges over time on its own, and it fills faster upon defeating enemies. Each character has his or her own special attack, and these attacks can be upgraded (more on this in a bit). Special attacks propel the player character forward and deliver repeated damage to enemies along the way, making them useful for stronger foes or clusters of regular enemies.

Players have a fast movement speed, a 2x nonvariable jump, a double jump, and they are able to jump up any vertical surface. This essentially means that players can quickly reach any point in the environment, which is a necessity, as they often face rooms full of ground-based and flying enemies simultaneously. Since players can knock enemies upward, downward, and to the side, there is a lot of strategy around positioning enemies properly. This allows players to line up multiple foes to hit them simultaneously, or dodge incoming projectiles while still meting out damage.

Efficiency is key to reach a gold medal ranking, whereas skilled players can expect to get silver for average performance, and bronze is reserved for very poor performance. Every time the player defeats a room full of enemies, he is told whether he did well, average, or poorly, with the game’s announcer piping up to cheer the player on or chide him for not moving quickly enough. The announcer kicks off every event and chimes in from time to time with an over-the-top “ready to rumble”-style presentation that adds to the fast paced feel of the proceedings.

Another useful ability in the player’s repertoire is the dash, which may be performed on the ground or in the air. In addition, the player occasionally encounters poles within the level, and dashing near a pole allows the player to unleash a stronger attack and send him forward in whichever direction he is pressing at the time. There are even a few pole-based races where the player charges from one end of the arena to the other, dashing between poles and occasionally smashing targets on his way to the finish line.

By holding the DASH button, players can charge up and unleash a very fast dash. The charge time means that it’s not terribly useful in combat, but it is very useful at the start of each match, as the player starts each round locked in a cage. As the announcer yells “Ready! Steady! Speed Brawl!”, the player can charge up a dash, and getting the timing right means that he will blast out of the cage at super speed, offering a time advantage.

Some events consist of a single short sequence of battles or races, with a finish line at the end. These events often last less than a minute. Other events are longer, with a few checkpoints spread throughout the course, offering a breather between rounds… although the player must still restart the event if killed. These events are several minutes long, and a number of them end in battles against boss-class creatures that are much tougher than regular enemies. These creatures – and some of the regular enemies – often telegraph their strikes with a glowing spark, giving the player the chance to dodge with the right timing and deliver a powerful counterattack.

You begin with two playable characters, but over the course of the games, you encounter new characters who join your team, eventually bringing your roster to six. The first new character to join your team is Cassie, a short and sassy young lady with incredible speed. She doesn’t pack quite the punch as her fellow brawlers, but she can string together combos more easily and she’s the best pick for the race-based events.

Players select two characters at the start of each match, and they are advised that it’s best to mix up skillsets to take advantage of the situation, such as having a fast weak character paired with a slow strong one. Players are able to swap characters at any time during the game, and if one character should be knocked out, the other automatically joins. A button combination allows you to execute a powerful team attack by calling in the other character for a combined strike (provided you have sufficient stamina).

Since the game is built around speed, tagging in a partner has additional benefits. For instance, players can swap over to a faster character when transitioning from one battle to the next. Sometimes one character gets knocked down by a heavy strike or suffers from a status effect, and instead of waiting for the character to recover, the player can tag in their partner to get straight back into the action. In addition, if a character is low on health, the player can swap them out, and some characters can recover a bit of health while tagged out.

The game features a robust skill tree with health and stamina extensions, as well as added strength, resistance to certain status effects, and upgraded special attacks. A number of the upgrades are character-specific, allowing players to enhance their strengths and take advantage of their differing playstyles. Winning tournaments fills an upgrade meter, and winning better medals fills the meter further. Levels may be replayed to go for a higher ranking, which becomes easier as the player unlocks new characters and better equipment, but players cannot farm for upgrade points by replaying the same levels over and over. Every character on the team earns upgrade points at the same rate regardless of whether they were used in battle.

New enemy types are introduced slowly throughout the game’s 50 levels and four leagues. Their behaviors aren’t terribly complex, which supports the game’s fast pace and the fact that the camera is zoomed in a bit compared to the size of the arena. This means that enemies may be scrolled on and off the screen several times in just a few seconds, so overly complicated movement and attack patterns would be difficult to contend with, and possibly not even recognized by the player given the lightning fast pace.

Enemies that do have powerful attacks have long telegraphs, such as high arcing projectiles instead of bullets fired in a straight line, and there are audio and visual cues that announce heavy attacks, such as a flash of light just before a melee strike, long-range laser strikes that take a couple of seconds to warm up, or projectile-launching enemies calling out their attack types.

Since arenas extend beyond the resolution of the screen, it’s possible to have an enemy that needs to be killed but is not visible, and this is handled by an indicator showing you the direction of the baddie. However, many foes stay on the ground for quite a while when knocked down, and it’s not always apparent that they’re still in need of your knuckle intervention before reaching their final resting place… and this can slow the game’s pace. Even small fly-like foes take several hits before falling, and they are able to recover after a few seconds, but their visual design suggests that they should be killed with a single successful combo.

Players must be wary of the environment as they do battle, as there are objects that can provide help or harm. For instance, barrels can be punched and knocked into enemies to cause damage, and exploding barrels cause even more. There are also swinging rocks attached to beams that can be attacked, and hitting them hard enough causes them to swing around quickly and cause damage over a wide area. However, there are also some obstacles, particularly in later levels, such as flame spouts that ignite soon after being touched, and these cause continuous burn damage to brawlers who are not immune.

Other hazards include bottomless pits, which fortunately don’t kill you outright, but they slow your progress, drain a bit of health, and automatically tag in your partner. Later levels also feature objects that affect your movement, such as speed boosters that let you zip along quickly, and pistons that knock you up into the air… or into danger if you’re not careful, and these pistons can also be used to launch barrels and hit distant enemies.

In general, the game’s pace is quite fast… at least during the combat portions. However, the furious pace comes to a halt between rounds as players engage in lengthy narrative encounters with the various factions involved in the Speed Brawl games. These interactions introduce new characters and set up villains who are working to thwart your progress, but there is a lot of story for a game that is essentially about turning bugs into juice. The cutscenes are certainly well produced, with character portraits for each and solid characterization, and the story elements help to add depth to the strange alternate 1888, but they do contrast with the otherwise zesty pace. Cutscenes are skippable for those without patience.

Similarly, pacing is slowed between levels as players are constantly earning new equipment, most of which is only marginally different than what they are already using. Players use an equipment menu to select items and compare them to those that are already equipped, or they can sell the items for some spare change. A shop system allows players to spend earned money on new equipment as well, with better equipment becoming available later in the game. For those who wish to dive into the lore of the world, its characters, enemy types, and even equipment items and status effects, a codex is available with loads of details.

Aesthetically, the game offers vibrant visuals, excellent character designs and animations, and an upbeat soundtrack, all of which emphasize the strength of the brawlers and the need to move quickly… which is further enhanced by the voice of the exuberant announcer. The worldbuilding is interesting as well, for those who take the time to read through the details, and there are lots of references to historical figures and how their contributions play out in this alternate reality. The game also offers 2P online and offline co-op for the entire campaign, allowing players to team up and bash bugs together.

Speed Brawl was developed by Double Stallion Games, a studio based in Montreal, Canada and founded in 2013. The game was funded in part by the Canada Media Fund. The studio previously developed some mobile titles in the form of Big Action Mega Fight!, which was released in 2013, and OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo!, which was developed in partnership with Cartoon Network and Ian Jones-Quartey and released in 2016.

The game was published by Kongregate, which operates a well known site dedicated to Flash- and browser-based games. The studio has developed numerous mobile games, and has also published several indie titles, including Super Fancy Pants Adventure, Bit Heroes, and Stormbound.