I flung my pastel pink jelly bean body against the doorway’s twisted patterns with reckless abandon, but it was no use. This was not the door-hole for me, and I winced as a neon-blue competitor repeated the same task two doors down, only for the door to fall and the path to open. They were through. I wobbled over through the chaos, a crowd of pastel jujubes suddenly clamoring to slide through the same hole. But I had made it through, and that was that. Onto the next round. Playing Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, the new battle royale party game from developer Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital, feels like a candy-coated sugar rush in video game form. It may not have the highest nutritional value, but it’s hard to stop once you’ve dipped your hand into the sweets jar.
There’s real risks that come with making a game like Fall Guys. Although the reaction to the (impressively polished) CG trailer at Devolver’s press conference was very positive—a friend leaned over and whispered that it was one of the best trailers for an indie title they could remember seeing—there’s no guarantee that a game with so few familiar reference points will land well. It’s certainly unlike anything else in the battle royale market, I thought, as my sentient Tootsie Roll was squashed by a rotating hammer and my bobtail snatched by a rogue gummy bear.
Fall Guys is what happens when one of these performance-based Japanese comedy game shows à la Takeshi’s Castle drinks too much Robitussin and wanders onto Willy Wonka’s factory floor. It’s a bit Mario Party with its rotating cast of friendship-ending minigames, each round whittling away part of the original one-hundred players until only a few compete in the final round of madness. I kept thinking back to the cult classic original Xbox gem and Bill Gates favorite Fuzion Frenzy with its balance of skill-based game rounds and shiny RNG frustration machines.
It’s nice that it’s not so violent. It’s even a bit relaxing, despite all the chaos, although that may have had more to do with our surroundings, shoes off, nestled in beanbag chairs and holed up in a colorful room that had more in common with the Chuck E. Cheese ball pit than the typical drab E3 meeting room. I appreciate that Fall Guys is trying to be a game for the whole family to enjoy together without alienating the adults along the way.
I played an early pre-alpha build of Fall Guys, and you could tell. It still needs work: on animation, on game variety, on RNG balance, on a few glitchy gameplay moments. Characters sometimes clipped over each other or seemed to warp around slightly, and grabbing onto ledges to pull the Fall Guy up didn’t feel very fluid or natural, although the Mediatonic team mentioned their desire to make players feel like they aren’t entirely in control of their character. But it’s wrong to judge a game as ambitious as this one on the shortcomings of an early build, especially when the game’s core loop shined so brightly. Before you ask: the team has no plans for Nintendo Switch, although they were full of praise for the console and its first-party library.
Fall Guys is entering some crowded fields: party titles, competitive online, battle royale. It’s hard to know what the right strategy is. Is it right to take a risk on a properly new, original idea and risk failure, or try to distill and perfect the essence of a popular genre to capitalize on it? It remains to be seen whether the former strategy will work out for Mediatonic, but when the game is as charming and bursting at the seams with personality as Fall Guys, it’s hard not to root for it.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout slips and slides onto PC and PS4 in 2020.