Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Mayhem Brawler is a good but not great beam-‘em-up game that reminded me of Streets of Rage 4, just with a bit less polish. That’s certainly solid company to be in, even if it never quite reaches the same heights. Fans of the side scrolling brawling genre should enjoy their time with this one, but I doubt it will bring in new fans to the beat-‘em-up genre either.
The plot is set up by a rather sharp looking comic book style of presentation that pops up to progress the narrative as you play the game. It’s a nice aesthetic that carries over well to the game’s bright, colorful visuals. The inner city setting is a common one for these types of games (Final Fight, Double Dragon, the aforementioned Streets of Rage and more), and works well enough here, even if it feels a bit unoriginal. One nice twist is there is a bit of a supernatural element tossed in.
The plot revolves around picking one of three supernatural police officers that are part of a group named Stronghold. You have the three usual archetypes here: Dolphin is the large, lumbering heavy-hitter (my least favorite style). Star is the speedy female character with telekinetic ability and Trouble is a werewolf who lands in the middle stat-wise. While there’s plenty of standard-issue thugs here, the enemies have a supernatural vibe as well, which aligns nicely with the theme here. These characters tend to have relevant special attacks that make them a bit more challenging than the typical punching and kicking street thug in these games, and it definitely makes Mayhem Brawler more challenging than the average brawler.
In terms of the overall gameplay, it’s pretty standard stuff for the genre. You mostly kick and punch and kill guys to pick up weapons with a limited number of uses. I liked how the special attack had its own bar instead of draining your health, and there is a block button as well. For years there have been enemy types who can block – so it’s nice to finally return the favor. Unfortunately despite these little wrinkles, the gameplay itself just feels kind of stiff. Maybe it’s that weapons don’t get knocked out of hands on impacting enemies, but requiring you to best them first. Or just because the animations feel a little on the stiff side.
Adding to the difficulty is that from about mid-game on, it sure feels like every enemy has a string of combos they can unleash or grappling moves that render you helpless unless you break out your special attack and they largely negate the value of the block button. That’s probably the biggest knock on Mayhem Brawler. You spend most of your time fighting, and the actual combat just feels unpolished and very rough around the edges. It’s enjoyable enough, but it could have been better.
One of the key things to a good brawler is replay value, so while the actual combat left me a little frustrated, I could appreciate several other aspects of Mayhem Brawler. For one, there’s pretty solid enemy variety. The aforementioned supernatural characters do a great job of creating opportunities for new enemies. Instead of just color and name swaps of the same six basic enemies, there’s actually a pretty healthy variety to be had here.
Furthermore, I mentioned the comic book style narrative presentation. Aside from just looking and sounding really slick, there’s a faux twitter feed along the side that kept me interested in what was being said as the followers ‘react’ to events. Additionally, while a single playthrough is not terribly long, you get to make some choices during these between stage scenes. This not only impacts which level you play through, but the ending you get as well. All of these things as well as three distinctive main characters to choose from help Mayhem Brawler’s replay value than most games in the genre.
In terms of the overall presentation, Mayhem Brawer is a pretty sound entry. While the character animations are a bit on the stiff side, the environments look awesome. That same comic strip style for the narrative scenes actually caries over quite nicely to the core gameplay as well. The sound effects and music are decent. None of the songs from the soundtrack struck me as terribly memorable, but the tunes fit the action and visuals well enough.
Mayhem Brawler is a solid beat-‘em-up game that manages to do something few games in the genre do: make the narrative interesting. This is handled through a bevy of excellent comic book style panels and the ability to choose your own path to different endings. I do wish the combat was just a bit smoother, since that is what the core gameplay is all about, but the oodles of variety and fun supernatural theme make Mayhem Brawler fun despite its flaws.Score: 7 / 10