Brawl Stars is actually a worthy, if simple, Clash Royale successor. For a while there, it appeared like Brawl Stars wasn’t going to make it. Supercell’s free-to-play mobile shooter soft-launched in Canada in June 2017 and then reached a few more countries this past January, but the lethargic rollout suggested that Brawl Stars wasn’t able to join the likes of Clash Royale and Clash of Clans as being an international smash.
Its creators agreed, apparently. During its 500-plus days in limited release, the Finnish studio reworked the controls and progression system, shifted the screen orientation, and made myriad other tweak. Supercell has a medical history of killing soft-launched games that couldn’t match its vision, but Brawl Stars finally emerged through the gauntlet alive, and seemingly better to have been through it.
Brawl Stars smartly adapts team-based multiplayer shooters for mobile in a way in which makes perfect sense for pocket-sized touch devices. It’s an unbiased-based shooter, a battle royale game, a MOBA-lite and much more, all wrapped up inside an approachable and attractive package.
Both Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds have been huge on iOS and Android (and everywhere else) this coming year, but neither is an optimal smartphone experience. These are certainly good enough in the event you don’t have a current console or a capable PC, or you’re just hungry for competition on the go, but they’re awkward in each of the ways you’d expect from the mobile port. They’re cumbersome and imprecise, and don’t run along with on older devices. The oft-lengthy matches also aren’t ideal for hopping set for a simple fix.
Brawl Stars doesn’t suffer from these complications, because it’s built for mobile and cognizant of the platform’s limitations. Matches typically last a few minutes, and the top-down view means there’s no fussing having a camera. One virtual stick controls your character while another aims and fires your weapon; it is possible to alternately tap the second stick to get a single shot in the nearest foe. And as soon as your ” special ” attack charges, another virtual stick activates to aim and launch that.
That’s all there is into it. It functions impressively well: Movement and aiming both feel spot-on, and there’s essentially no learning curve to contend with. The matches are fast and fluid, and pretty satisfying despite their compact length. They’ll obtain your heart pumping too; I’ve already cursed aloud (to myself) at many random opponents (who can’t hear me) when gunned down inside the heat of battle.
Gem Grab is the brawl stars android experience, a 3-on-three offering by which gleaming, purple gems pop from an opening in the center of the stage. Each team vies to become the first one to claim 10 gems, then hold firm as the timer ticks down. But a highly-timed shotgun blast or luchador elbow drop will scatter the defeated player’s stash, quickly turning the tide within this entertaining mode.
More play options emerge as you gradually accumulate trophies. Showdown is Brawl Stars’ 10-player take on the battle royale, and is available in both solo and duos variants. It’s pretty straightforward: you’ll fire away at foes and try to survive, but the strategic twist comes with health insurance and attack-boosting power cubes scattered in treasure boxes around the stage. In familiar battle royale fashion, the play area gradually shrinks as time passes – here, it’s with poison clouds that creep from your edges towards the center of the map.
Bounty mode is similar to team deathmatch, with bonus points for taking out opponents with long kill streaks, whilst the MOBA-esque Heist sends your team away and off to destroy the enemies’ safe before they eradicate yours. Brawl Ball is … well, it’s soccer with guns. That’s pretty amusing.
The cartoonish look is sharp throughout, from your level backdrops towards the characters themselves, using a solid mixture of play styles found within the currently 22-strong hero roster. An Elvis-esque cowboy with powerful pistols aujoxu should be precisely aimed? A robot bartender who lobs explosive bottles for ample splash damage? What about a hero who can summon a lumbering bear to hunt down foes? They’re all here.
Granted, the characters don’t pack much personality beyond their vibrant looks, however the diversity in attack and attribute cocktails keeps things interesting. The heroes feel different on the battlefield, and you can quickly sense when some are a better fit for play modes over others, or that the complementary team pairing creates a far more effective unit in battle
Brawl Stars’ diverse selection of genre riffs keeps things lively, and like Supercell’s older Clash Royale, this free-to-play game is very fairly monetized. You can play around you want with no timers to hold back (or pay) through, but you’ll only earn item box-unlocking tokens for the first handful of matches of a long session. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait for a tokens to recharge before earning any further rewards.
Even amidst a welcome selection of distinctive play modes and characters, Brawl Stars sticks for the same basic gameplay elements throughout. It’s what assists in keeping the action so immediate and approachable, and it’s a sizable part of why Supercell’s latest game succeeds.
Which also might be what ultimately limits its long term appeal, however. Brawl Stars has become streamlined to dramatic effect, but there’s little depth for the moment-to-moment gameplay. It doesn’t have the kind of strategic hook and outside-the-game tinkering that made Clash Royale such a worthy obsession and, eventually, a proper esport. Supercell may well have competitive ambitions for Brawl Stars too, but I just don’t see enough tactical potential here to yield a thing that people would bother to look at. Soon enough, that same degree of simplicity could make initially excited players peel away in favour of fresher mobile distractions.
But who knows? Given the length of time Supercell spent tinkering with Brawl Stars before launch, it seems fair to imagine that this studio may put the same sort of effort into keeping the game lively and fascinating for the long haul. Even though not, Brawl Stars is really a bite-sized treat that you can savor free of charge today, plus it feels perfect on your own smartphone