In Space We Brawl is a twin stick shooter meets brawling game by developer Forge Reply. While the game supports up to 4 players competitively, two players can also form a team to go up against a team of two bots for some 2-player local co-op play. How well does the co-op work? Let’s find out.
The game is divided into two sections: Arena and Challenges. Challenges serve as both the tutorial for the game as well as a standard challenge system (letter scores and best times are tracked). A freshly installed game will only start with two challenges unlocked, but upon beating a challenge, another challenge is unlocked. There are 21 challenges in total, with some of them unlocking new ships and new ship weapons.
The meat of the game, however, is in the Arena section. There are three types of arena modes: Tournament, Championship, and Gladiator. These modes are similar in that players will try to shoot enemy ships and kill them while dodging and shielding from attacks and space debris. At the end of the game, the player with the highest score wins. They differ in the ruleset that guides each mode. In Tournament, a specified number of matches are played (anywhere from 3-10). In Championship, ships will brawl until a player reaches a target score (anywhere from 3-60, increasing by intervals of 3). In Gladiator, players keep fighting until they run out of lives or time (both the number of lives and time limit is variable, with the number of lives ranging from 1 to “a lot,” which is at least 21 lives).
A total of 11 ships and 11 weapons are in the game, with a fairly even split of ships/weapons being unlocked from the start and ships/weapons being unlockable through the challenge system. Ships vary in attributes such as speed, health, energy, etc. Upon choosing a ship, players can choose which weapon to use with that ship for the arena fight. When all ships have been selected, extra slots can be filled with bots of easy, medium, or hard difficulty. The last step is choosing which of 8 map locations the fight will take place. Each of these locations has a small, medium, and large map. Once all the settings are locked in, it’s time to brawl.
During a fight, players can use their ship’s energy to either boost their move speed or shield their ship. They’ll also want to try to use their special weapon strategically, but they can always fall back on their normal weapon for unlimited shooting. The gameplay is meant to be pretty fast-paced, as ships will constantly be drifting across the screen and looping to the other side (momentum will keep ships moving forward, even when the L stick isn’t being pressed). When the arena mode’s win condition has been met, the game will end and players will get to see how they scored.
To be completely honest, twin-stick shooters aren’t my favorite kind of game, but I have been known to greatly enjoy a few, like Geometry Wars. In Space We Brawl (ISWB) didn’t really do it for me, for a couple of reasons. First, the emphasis here is clearly not on co-op play. I felt like this game would clearly be best played as a local party game with four humans against each other. Whether you’re a casual twin-stick shooter player like me, or a serious twin-stick shooter fan (and there’s certainly a lot of depth in ISWB), the AI isn’t really going to cut it. The AI appears to be easily able to crush casual players (like me) despite the difficulty setting, but not because it plays like a pro. Likely, the AI would be destroyed by a good player (i.e. not me) because I often found that the AI would like to prioritize debris unless a ship was in their face. A couple of times a match dragged on because two bot ships were left in the fight, and they weren’t able to hit each other.
The second big reason that ISWB didn’t really pique my fancy was despite the large amount of variety in the game (e.g. ships, weapons, modes), the variety didn’t feel very impactful. While I could certainly tell a really fast ship from a really slow ship, it didn’t really impact the way I played. I didn’t really find I had a preference for any given ship or any given weapon, despite their differences. While the different map regions looked different, again, I didn’t really find I preferred or dispreferred any of them. Also, the different arena modes all basically felt the same: shoot and kill ships until the game ends, regardless of what the winning condition is. Now, as I pointed out, I’m pretty terrible at most of these kinds of games, but in other twin-stick shooters (that I’m also bad at), I can certainly appreciate the variety of playstyles encouraged with different kinds of ships and modes. I just didn’t see much difference in ISWB even with the large amount of options.
ISWB is certainly not a bad game. I like the graphical look of the game, and I like that the whole aesthetic of the game is having a silly good time. There’s just not a whole lot in the gameplay that sets it apart from other games of its type, and I would probably prefer to play several other brawlers or twin-stick shooters instead. If I were to play it again, I probably would never play it for co-op comp stomp, and would instead play it only as a multiplayer brawler.
This review was based on the PS4 version of the game provided by the developer