A family-friendly battle royale that replaces the violence with rounds of Wipeout-style challenges and school gym antics, Fall Guys is a brilliant snack food online game that manages to be fulfilling even when you lose.
The easy-to-play but often comically frustrating last-one-standing game has had a huge debut week, with more than 2 million downloads on PC and heaps of players on PS4 thanks to it being free this month for PlayStation Plus members. Addictively delightful and filled with comedic chaos, it has all the hallmarks of a long-running online despite some uneven challenges.
In some ways Fall Guys feels like a hodge podge of a whole host of multiplayer favourites, with the addictive progression and near-victories of Fortnite, the quick matches of Rocket League, the anyone-can-play appeal of Mario Party and the wonky goofiness of many a local physics-based indie game. But, thanks to the cute jelly bean avatars and a TV show obstacle course theme, it all comes together to create something fresh.
As soon as you launch the game you’re thrown in a group of 60 players, which in my experience takes no longer than around 30 seconds. A match consists of up to five rounds of various running and jumping activities, with players being eliminated during each, until a winner is crowned. The whole match is generally over in less than 15 minutes, assuming you make it to the final round.
The genius in the design here is that it feels great to pass each challenge, or even come close to passing, and the game reinforces this with an experience system that will always give you points after a round for a steady dopamine hit of new outfit options. There are also often tiny moments of sensational victory or crushing defeat amidst the chaos of the stages themselves, like when you leapfrog a player to make it onto a platform and send them tumbling, or when you clear the way for a dozen opponents to finish but don’t quite make it there yourself.
The simple controls of run, jump, dive and grab, combined with the huge dose of randomness and luck present in many of the challenges, makes for a fairly even playing field among veterans and newcomers. That said, familiarity with each course becomes more vital as rivals get eliminated. You’ll eventually learn when to be patient and when to make your move, and will likely find you need to put in a decent chunk of time before you’re able to take your first crown.
While the inflatable aesthetic and bright colours certainly evoke Wipeout, quite a few of the two dozen different activities are more inspired by the older Japanese TV show Takeshi’s Castle. Many have you simply running to the finish while dodging pendulum balls, jumping over spinning poles and balancing on beams, which sounds simple until you try to do it while being buffeted by 30 others.
Of the race courses See Saw is a good example of the equal parts elation and frustration Fall Guys can elicit; balancing these oversized pieces of playground equipment would be simple if all players were patient and rational, but in the chaos of players rushing to be first they often become slanty death traps dumping scores of opportunistic contestants into oblivion.
Then there are more gimmicky levels, like Door Dash where you need to slam through a series of doors but some are solid walls, Jump Club where two horizontal poles rotate at different speeds and you need to time your leaps, or Block Party where walls with gaps cut out sweep across a floating platform so you all need to cram into the one spot to avoid being eliminated. These are rife for foul play, as players will often drag and jostle each other to force falls.
The most hit-or-miss activities are the team-based variety, where you qualify or are eliminated as a group. Some of these are great — like Egg Scramble where you need to hoard eggs in your team’s camp and steal them from others — but all require conscientious team players to work well and they’re not always in good supply. Even when teams are working together it can result in frustrating stalemates.
A couple of the activities also get a bit too senseless given the laggy nature of massive online multiplayer. A prime example are the handful of games that involve chasing and grabbing other players, which often descends into running madly in circles and mashing the grab button. That said Royal Fumble, where one player has a tail and all the others have to grab them to steal it, resulted in the highest heart rate I experienced the entire time.
My final gripe with the game is the limited options for playing alongside friends. There is no local splitscreen or cross-play as yet, so the only way you can group up is online with multiple PS4 consoles or multiple PCs.
The good news is that, as a live service game, Fall Guys is in a position to address all these niggles as it progresses by rotating new events in and out or launching new features and versions.
Over time the game will live or die on how well it’s supported and developed, but as it stands now Fall Guys is an exhilarating online competition you can enjoy in bite-sized chunks; a distillation of the joy and accomplishment present in other battle royale games without the violence or high skill requirement. It’s consistently joyful, and has the potential to become even better as it grows.
Fall Guys is out now for PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC.