It's going to be near impossible to write this review without at least mentioning Super Smash Bros., so let's just get it out of the way. Brawlout is essentially Super Smash Bros. It takes the skeleton of Nintendo's hugely popular fighter but obviously adds its own character roster. Each combatant has a damage percentage that rises as they get hit, and the higher it is, the farther they fly after being smacked. Fall off the stage or get knocked off-screen, and you lose a life.
You can't really criticise Brawlout for sticking rather rigidly to Smash's blueprint, though. Many platform-based brawlers have attempted to ape Nintendo's juggernaut in the past, but altered mechanics have often been the downfall of said games. Brawlout may be unoriginal, but at least you know that it's working with a tried and tested formula.
The problem with Brawlout is that it struggles to build upon these foundations in any meaningful way. Its character roster is largely forgettable, with most of the anthropomorphic combatants failing to really stand out in terms of visual design. Don't get us wrong, there are some fun fighters here -- Paco the luchador frog with four arms immediately comes to mind -- but as a whole, the roster just feels flat. The issue is compounded when guest characters such as The Drifter (of Hyper Light Drifter) and Juan (of Guacamelee!) have been faithfully recreated, their more detailed and carefully crafted designs making the rest of the cast look somewhat unfinished.
Unfortunately, the lack of interesting visual design also bleeds into the combat itself. It can be difficult to tell exactly what's going on during a match with more than two combatants because clear, defined attack animations are few and far between. All of the most successful fighting games give their characters instantly recognisable silhouettes -- a kick immediately looks like a kick, a shoulder tackle immediately looks like a shoulder tackle -- but in Brawlout, the animations are so quick and the attacks are so generic that you'll often have trouble reacting to what's happening.
What's more, attacks generally lack impact -- there's no real crunch to many of the moves that you'll be using to send your opponents flying. There'll be times when you'll question how a seemingly weak looking jab sent you spiralling farther than a full-on body slam, and it's this kind of inconsistent visual feedback that prevents Brawlout from being as satisfying to play as it should be.
It's not all doom and gloom for this colourful fighter, however. Despite the abovementioned missteps, Brawlout can still provide good fun when playing with a few friends in local multiplayer. The controls are easy to grasp and there's definitely potential for some tense moments -- just don't expect a competitively-honed edge.
Fighting games tend to get a lot of stick for skimping on content, but Brawlout offers a respectable number of game modes. There's nothing out of the ordinary here, with your standard arcade ladder in place alongside a regular versus mode and a suite of your usual online options, but a handful of unlockable characters, alternate character skins, and little details like player icons should be enough to keep you playing. The tutorial's not bad either, if you're looking to learn the ins and outs.
On a surface level Brawlout is a decent Smash Bros. clone. It's colourful and easy to pick up, but the brawling itself lacks impact and edge. If you're looking for a more casual fighting game experience -- something to play with friends, perhaps -- then it's worth a shout, but keep your expectations in check.