Quick game review | Shadow Brawlers is a hidden gem worth checking out
In a time when most games focus on offering advanced graphics and complex stories — and often fail to live up to the expectations — Shadow Brawlers comes to focus on a key element that many AAA titles simply cannot offer nowadays: sheer, unadulterated fun.
The creative force behind Shadow Brawlers, namely Team Guazú, hails from Argentina and consists of only three people. With solid experience in traditional animation — its client list also includes Cartoon Network — this small team only worked on one game before Shadow Brawlers, but Samurai Bamboo — although it quickly turned into a success considering the feedback received as a Beta-stage product — was never finished.
Shadow Brawlers was released on December 13 on Steam and — a remarkable achievement, if you ask me — all the 42 reviews it received so far are positive (I did not believe it at first sight so I checked each of them and now I can confirm that).
Those who never enjoyed local multiplayer titles (at least two players needed, and maximum four) with arcade graphics and gameplay — such as Samurai Gunn, Black & White Bushido, or TowerFall Ascension — might want to save their precious time and skip this review. If you are one of those who do not fit in the category above, please feel free to read on.
Genre and Style
The game's description on Steam reads the following: "Shadow Brawlers is a local party game in which players control cute, agile ninjas that hide in the shadows. Surprise your opponents by appearing suddenly from the background; attack and disappear." They should have also added that, at least for the first few sessions, the players get to unlock a wide range of new characters, weapons, and a few game modes in addition to the initially available Death Match and Training modes.
Visually speaking, Shadow Brawlers can be considered a black and white title, although there are some colors involved as well. The idea is that each map offers light and dark areas and the player can change the color of the character to sneak on the enemies. Obviously, being camouflaged does not make the character invulnerable, so "invisible" characters can still be killed, but having the advantage of surprise is essential in this game.
Before moving on, I must add that this basic visual style that reminds me of a mobile game that I enjoyed a lot a few years ago, namely Shadow Fight 2 — which is still available in 2020 in case you missed it so far, comes with what I consider to be a drawback as well and others will surely overlook — there is little that sets apart most characters from this point of view, so my favorite Shadow Brawlers character so far is Dinopianito.
Story? There's no need for a story! Just get some friends on the couch and fire up the game, that should be enough to give you a serious amount of fast-paced, laughter-infused, frustration-free fun.
If I had to compress the entire gameplay experience in a single word that would be "fast" or, even better, "blazing-fast" and nothing else. In most cases, it only takes a hit to take down an opponent. However, depending on skill — and luck more often than I would like, to be honest — fights can get quite intense and the fighters can cross blades more than just once or twice before a winner is decided.
A fun side of Shadow Brawlers is that you never get rest — not even in the score reporting screen. If you can move around and attack your enemies, no matter where you are in the game, feel free to do so — the result might surprise you (hint: pay attention to what's happening in the score screen).
After installing the game, you can only play in the Death Match or Training modes. As you keep fighting, you get to unlock additional modes, such as Dominion, The Heist, or Extermination.
Due to the speed of the battles, controlling your fighter can get awkward sometimes, but Shadow Brawlers is very pleasant overall. I only got to play it versus my daughter who is eight years old and definitely not a ninja, and we both got our shares of wins with no undisputed champion emerging after more than a week of daily battles for supremacy. As a side note, I used the keyboard and she used a gamepad and I can't say that there's any big drawback to using any of these two control methods.
In addition to the new game modes mentioned earlier, Shadow Brawlers allows you to unlock new characters, weapons, and worlds. There are also 62 Steam achievements up for grabs right now. According to Steam, we played for less than four hours (I think there was some Steam glitch that failed to record some gameplay time, or Shadow Brawlers simply compresses time... A LOT.) and managed to unlock 42 achievements.
In Shadow Brawlers, a regular session usually goes like this: enter the game, choose a mode, fight, die, laugh, watch the slow-motion replay of the kill, laugh some more, and then do it all over again. Not very complex and quite childish for some gamers, but definitely a great fast-paced multiplayer experience that will not keep you tied to the couch for hours and hours — if you want to do that, there's always a huge Civilization map waiting for you go jump in and play it on Epic speed...
Thanks to the basic graphics approach, Shadow Brawlers should work great on that desktop PC that you've had gathering dust in your basement for a decade. The minimum system requirements are Windows 7, a 2.5 GHz single core processor, 2 GB of memory, any DirectX 10 compatible video card — integrated solutions included as well, and just 1 GB of hard drive — or SSD/hybrid, of course — space.
Before the verdict, I must confess that I bumped into a strange bug — or maybe a feature (!?!) — when the gamepad was connected and active, I was not able to check or change the control settings for it. On the other hand, when the gamepad was not connected, the settings for it and the keyboard were both available. Anyway, since my gamepad often behaves very strange, I think this has less to do with the game and more with the gamepad's driver. If anyone else encountered such issues, it would be great to hear from you in the comments section, maybe we can help iron out a bug if this is really one.
To be honest, I didn't expect much from Shadow Brawlers when I fired it up for the first time. In the past, I enjoyed the early Mortal Kombat games (including those on arcade machines), and more recently I was charmed by Shadow Fight 2, as I confessed earlier. However, fast-paced shooters or arcade games are not my thing nowadays — I am probably getting old, I know... All things considered, Shadow Brawlers only needed a few frustrating minutes with my daughter while we were both trying to get comfortable with our controls. After that short accommodation period, it started to grow on both of us and it still has a long way to go until we will get bored — if that will ever happen.
These being said, there's only one thing I wish: future updates with new game modes, worlds, weapons, and — if possible — online multiplayer battles.
P.S. As usual, this is where I thank for the game copy that was provided for the review. In this case, the thanks go to Javier Entelman, CEO of Inca Games, the company that published Shadow Brawlers. He should also get my sincere apologies for the delay, which was caused by personal health-related problems beyond my control. Thankfully, it is never too late to enjoy a great game, so if you got to this point, you know already that you should give Shadow Brawlers a chance.