Takeshi’s-Castle-with-jellybeans is one hell of a sales pitch, but Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout manages to stick the landing. If you paid any attention to the internet during August 2020, then you’ll have seen the torrent of gifs, memes, articles and lists about Mediatonic’s new maybe-battle royale maybe-MMO maybe-party game.
In case you haven’t, the concept of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is simple. Each “show” starts with 60 players online, all taking the role of a walking jellybean person dressed in a menagerie of ridiculous items. Those 60 beans are put through their paces in a series of grueling challenges, not dissimilar to novelty game shows like Takeshi’s Castle or Total Wipeout. These challenges consist of levels of platforms, rollers, pendulums, doors, and pink slime. Lots of pink slime.
The game has a playful feel. Its levels are colorful and lively, dizzying in their vibrancy and candy aesthetic but ever dangerous in their threat of elimination. There is variety in the round formats, from races to scored games to simple elimination survival modes. The childlike appearance of Fall Guys belies the intensity and anxiety of a game mode that has you screaming at your screen over a defeat that felt wholly unfair (but almost certainly wasn’t).
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor
When the series of rounds are all said and done, only one jellybean can be declared the winner and earn the coveted crown. That’s where the battle royale comparisons come from as the game whittles down a multi-digit number of players until one remains. “Winner winner, chicken dinner”, if you will.
That’s also where the battle royale comparisons end. Fall Guys isn’t a game of collecting loot, or shrinking circles, or rifles and shotguns. There are no abilities, no power-ups, no armors and certainly no vehicles. Players don’t improve their chances of survival from the first minute to the last; this is where the true magic of Fall Guys is apparent. The game is endlessly replayable and immediately accessible. The only controls are moving and jumping, with an additional grab button for specific challenges that require it.
The challenge modes provide Fall Guys with its replayability but also an element of random chance. Much like victory in Apex Legends relies on the luck of good weapon drops and a circle zone in your favor, victory in Fall Guys likewise comes down to the luck of a series of mini-games best suited to your preference and skill.
American Ninja Jellybean
Race maps require balancing the intentionally awkward controls to guide your jellybean past obstacles and other players to be in the top percentile to reach the goal. Whirlygig stands out as a particularly well-built but challenging race map that has rotating beams, conveyor belts and spinning propellers trying to block your progress. Seesaws is an often-maddening race across balancing platforms, whilst Door Dash sees players running against a succession of walls, bashing head-first into doors in the hope that they are not fake (yes, exactly like ‘Knock Knock’ on Takeshi’s Castle).
Elimination maps work in reverse; players strive to be the last rather than the first. Surviving a map that seeks to dunk you into the slime means skillful platform hopping and hoping that the players around you will fall before you do. Jump Club is a circular platform with rotating horizontal beams that seek to push you off, whilst Roll Out sees players balancing on a cylinder with segments that rotate at different speeds — one false step, and it’s slime time!
Team games see the remaining jellybeans divided into equal groups and actually forced to cooperate to succeed and proceed together. These come in quite a variety of styles, from a game that is essentially soccer with giant, inflatable balls, to Egg Scramble, which sees players…well, scrambling for eggs. The eliminated team is the one with the least eggs in their basket at the end of the round. In solo play, these modes can be frustrating, often leading to elimination by matters entirely out of your control.
There are 25 individual mini-games making up Fall Guys, each with their individual strengths and weaknesses. The randomization of its levels mean you may be playing for hours before even seeing some of its modes. In an interview with IGN, Fall Guys lead game designer Joe Walsh hinted at the possibility for further game modes to the rotation and changes to existing maps that would mean they come in differing varieties to minimize map-learning.
“I think that’s the exciting thing about Fall Guys is that we have these 25 really exciting levels for launch, but as the game progresses we can just keep adding and tweaking and customizing all the ones that we already have. The idea is that you know, six months, a year down the line, Slime Climb is this gargantuan thing with so many variations.”
Fall Guys also supports some degree of customization, with body accessories and colors for your jellybean unlocked through Kudos, which in turn are acquired through play or for real-world money. Already at launch, the game also supports two optional paid DLC packages containing new attires, but thankfully, these are all cosmetic and have no bearing on actual gameplay. Cleverly, the “crowns” currency gates the rarer “epic” and “legendary” cosmetic unlocks. Winning a full show grants Crowns — an added incentive to keep on trying for that coveted #1 spot.
At its heart, Fall Guys is a party game best played in short bursts that you can quickly pick up and put down, and the time-to-launch is short enough to keep you wanting “one more try”. Limited replayability hurts the solo mode, but the addition of friends via online multiplayer can lead to a lot of laugh-out loud moments and hilarious cooperation (or “friendly” competition) that sustains it.
The low price point at launch is spot-on for the amount of content here, and your mileage with Fall Guys will depend on your patience for replaying game modes, especially ones that you may personally not enjoy.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 4th August 2020