App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Supercell’s mashup approach to game development is now officially a trend. Where Clash Royale was like if you combined Hearthstone and Kingdom Rush, Brawl Stars feels like a combination of Arena of Valor and Overwatch. The touchstones that Supercell draws from are definitely heavy hitters, but on this latest release, these inspirations are wrapped up in an experience that is so streamlined and polished that it struggles to make a strong impression.
The easiest genre to throw Brawl Stars into is “hero shooter.” It’s a multiplayer-only game, where teams of players fight using special heroes with unique powers over some sort of objective. Each hero has their own advantages and disadvantages, and bending these differences in your favor can spell the difference between victory and defeat in any given match.
The term "shooter" may make Brawl Stars sound like a first-person affair, but—to the contrary—all of the action takes place from an overhead view. You control your character using a really simple move and aim virtual joystick scheme, and you can also unlock ultimate powers to unleash on occasion during matches by doing damage to enemy players. This view and control scheme ends up making Brawl Stars feel kind of like a MOBA, especially since the game includes things like brush for your heroes to hide in on every map.
Play, progress, repeat
In Brawl Stars, there are five main modes, but most of them are locked off from you at the beginning. There are also 22 of heroes you can play as, but you start off with access to just one. Supercell isn’t a stranger to implementing free-to-play schemes, and their approach for Brawl Stars is based around withholding.
To unlock all of these modes and characters, you either need to play Brawl Stars quite a bit, and/or spend money. If doing either (or both) of these things would eventually give you access to everything in the game after a reasonable amount of investment, this would be fine, but this isn’t exactly the case. In addition to grinding for content, Supercell has added a way for you to level up the power level of your heroes, ensuring that you’ll have an almost endless treadmill to be working on, while also giving people who spend money on upgrades a competitive advantage over those who don’t.
Fighting for identity
While I’m not exactly a fan of Brawl Stars’s monetization scheme, it’s also not a complete dealbreaker. In my experience with the game, I didn’t encounter many huge power imbalances on teams, and I found myself coming back to play round after round. It’s actually kind of hard not to enjoy certain aspects of Brawl Stars. Supercell knows how to make games look good and encourage repeat play via progression mechanics. It’s also nice that it’s a multiplayer game that matches you into fights almost instantly, giving you an intense microdose of multiplayer action whenever you have a free few minutes.
For as good as Brawl Stars is as making me want to play it though, I wish it was more fun to actually play. The game’s controls feel oddly loose and muddy, characters—while bright and colorful—fall into pretty predictable hero shooter archetypes, and every mode in the game is some variation on something you’ve seen before in other, better multiplayer shooters. This makes Brawl Stars feel like a suboptimal gaming choice except when you just want a quick hit of shooter action while you’re between things rather than something you’d want to invest serious time into. Nothing highlights this more than when Brawl Stars isn’t operating as intended. If you have any sort of connection issues (which seems to occur more often than it should and without warning) or get matched against unbalanced teams, the whole thing kind of unravels and you start to wish you were playing just about anything else.
The bottom line
Brawl Stars is very good at providing instant gratification with high production values, but it doesn’t feel like a game that will sustain your interest for long. When everything is working in its favor, you might not notice that it’s just a simplified version of Paladins Strike (an already super streamlined game), or that its monetization scheme will eventually start matching you against players who are paying to crush you, but the veil will drop at some point, at which point you’ll likely just pivot to something else.