August 04, 2020
Sixty little pill-shaped people are waddling as fast as their little legs can carry them, throwing themselves headfirst at a series of identical doors. Some of the doors hold steady and some break apart, leading to a bottleneck of cute capsule-shaped people clambering over each other to squeeze through the open door, desperately trying not to get eliminated. Out of the sixty who started the course, forty-five will make it through to the next round, with the last fifteen knocked out. It’s a simple premise, but one that works extremely well, breathing a new lease of life into the ever-more-crowded battle royale genre.
This brilliant simplicity is found not only in the concept, but in the gameplay itself. As one of the titular Fall Guys stuck in a multicoloured game show purgatory where the cameras are always rolling, you have only a few abilities - running, jumping, grabbing and diving. This means that Fall Guys is incredibly simple to pick up - whether you’re a veteran with hundreds of thousands of gameplay hours under your belt, or someone who rarely picks up a controller, you’ll find it easy to jump in and make it through a round or two. The difficulty comes not from mastery of the controls or the need for quick reflexes, but from colourful selection of random rotating challenges.
Each game of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is split into rounds. You’ll begin with sixty players, and after each round a group of players are eliminated, until only one final challenge remains for the ten-or-so survivors. These challenges range from classic obstacle courses with an assortment of rotating platforms and swinging hammers, to team games that split players into groups and require you to work together. I often found the solo challenges to be more enjoyable, since you’re solely responsible for your own qualification or elimination, but the team games are still excellent fun considering the lack of communication.
It’s clear that the development team at Mediatonic has pulled many of the challenges from real life game shows, and the British developer shows its love for classic TV such as It’s A Knockout and Gladiators. If, like me, you grew up watching the Craig Charles-commentated Takeshi’s Castle every morning before school (Americans will know it as MXC) then Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout provides the best chance to live out your Keshi Head Dreams.
The game looks lovely, too, with big bold colours and a smooth framerate. Imagine tearing open an entire bag of jelly beans on a kid’s bouncy castle, and you’ve basically nailed the aesthetic of Fall Guys. The animation on each fall guy is wonderful, and watching them launch themselves around each arena on their tiny little legs is a joy. The music isn’t bad, either, although you might get sick of the same title track looping over and over again as you’re waiting for a game.
Fall Guys’ biggest problem right now is its servers. The title has avoided one of the major pitfalls of many big online multiplayer games by launching on PS Plus - having an incredibly high active player base on day one should do wonders for the title, much like Rocket League back in 2015. But in tackling that one problem, developer Mediatonic has created another, and as of the time of writing the servers are straining a little bit under the load. Matchmaking is a little glitched, meaning you’ll sometimes need to jump in and out to find a game, and the server connection often fails at the end of a game, meaning many of your rewards are delayed (although you should get them after your next match).
However, once you do find yourself in a match, it’s plain sailing, and it’s hard to think of another game that provides the same level of grin-inducing joy as Fall Guys. Whether you’re in the chaotic, madcap opening rounds against dozens of other bean-shaped opposition, or facing heartbreak in the final round as a single player beats you to the crown, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout blends the competitive tension of the battle royale genre with the laugh-out-loud joy of slapstick game shows to create a title with a concept so good, it’s baffling that no one else got there first.
There are some decent sound effects, with each round introduced with a piece of music that sounds like it came straight out of BBC’s Pointless. The music is nice and bubbly, although it can grate after a while, especially when waiting for a game.
The visuals are simple but effective. The animation on each little Fall Guy is wonderful, as you urge them forward on their stumpy legs or watch them ragdoll away when hit by something. The bright, colourful art style won’t be for everyone, but it works for the game.
A joy to play and clever in its simplicity, Fall Guys combines just the right level of control and physics-induced chaos to keep each round feeling fair but unpredictable. A wonderful new spin on the battle royale genre.
Matchmaking issues and progression bugs are a problem right now, and beyond a collectible currency and unlockable cosmetics, there isn’t much else to drive you forward. Luckily, once you’re in a game, you’ll be having too much fun to care.
Bad news for trophy hunters -- the Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout trophy list does not make for good reading. Multiplayer trophies are always a pain anyway, but this list includes super difficult trophies, such as one that requires five consecutive wins, as well as some that will require a lot of grinding. I’ve never seen a Platinum look so out of reach.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is brilliantly simple and wonderfully addictive once you’re in a game. Ignore a few bugs and some server issues that exist at launch, and you'll find hours of fun to be had, even if there isn’t much to do beyond the game’s headline mode. Takeshi’s Castle meets Battle Royale is a match made in heaven, it turns out.