Brawl Stars is going to be big. I mean, scratch that - Brawl Stars is going to be huge. Following on the colossal success of Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, Finnish developer Supercell stepped up to the challenge and delivered a game that encompasses what mobile games should be: fun, perfect for short gameplay bursts, easy to play but hard to master.
Brawl Stars was in soft launch for over a year and a half, plenty of time to experiment with familiar mechanics and to deliver a game that will stand out from the crowd. Without any further delay, Brawl Stars is incredibly addictive and set to become a gaming phenomenon. Larger than Clash Royale? Why not? I can see that happening.
Extraordinary League of Brawlers
Brawl Stars features a selection of game modes that revolve around eliminating your rivals, but it also includes a few twists such as protecting a safe or holding on to dear life… as well as gems or stars. One of the modes will immediately sound familiar, as it tasks you with dispatching other brawlers in the arena to be the last one standing, as poison clouds shrink the area… It’s obviously a Battle Royale mode, and a very fun one at that.
But let’s start from the beginning. In Brawl Stars you begin with one brawler, Shelly. She will be your ticket to other brawlers and a world of wonders that is mostly comprised of trophies, boxes and coins. The cast of brawlers is a colorful and lively one, featuring a wrestler, a miner, a waiter robot, a pirate, a princess, a vampire, Frankenstein himself, a cactus, a crow-man, and… a kid with a lollipop? These are just a few picks from the current total of 22 brawlers, each one with its unique style, and rarity type: Trophy Road Rewards, Rare, Super Rare, Epic, Mythic and Legendary.
Brawlers come in different classes: Skirmisher, Healer, Sharpshooter, Fighter, Heavyweight, Thrower, Toxic Assassin, Dashing Assassin and Stealthy Assassin. I can see the roster growing exponentially during the next couple of years, as it is extremely compelling to collect all the brawlers and level up each one individually. Since you can select your brawler before each match, the larger the selection pool is, the better.
To get new brawlers you must win trophies, as progression is entirely dependent upon these. You’ll earn some Trophy Road reward at fixed intervals, including a limited selection of brawlers. But you will also get coins, power points to unlock brawler upgrades, and tokens, among other prizes.
Since monetization is a crucial word for any developer, Brawl Stars includes six different kinds of currency for you to juggle: tokens, star tokens, gems, power points, coins and tickets. Gems are the premium currency, and while you may receive a handful of them from brawl boxes, you’ll have to fork out some real cash to get a decent amount. Token doublers, new brawlers and boxes can be acquired with gems only, so this will eventually give some players an edge over the competition.
Running out of battle tokens doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to play anymore while it replenishes; what happens is that you won’t earn these tokens after each battle, as you usually do according to your performance. Tokens are used to open brawl boxes, so they are extremely important, but you can earn them through other (more time-consuming) means, such as leveling up brawlers or playing ticketed events. You receive 20 tokens every two and a half hours, up to a limit of 100 tokens. Believe me, these will run out in a few matches, something that is clearly devised to slow down progression.
Now for a few quick Brawl Stars tips for the uninitiated: In the long run, it’s extremely important to level up each one of your brawlers, as this increases your total trophy count and unlocks rewards faster. It’s much easier to earn trophies this way, as focusing on a single brawler will eventually take you to a point where you will lose as many trophies as you eventually win. Pay special attention to this: good performances will earn you trophies, but bad performances will make you lose trophies as well.
Playing coward isn’t a bad thing in the Showdown mode. Try to resist the urge of charging blindly towards the first opponent that you set your eyes upon; instead, collect some power-ups from the boxes and don’t feel ashamed to hide in the bushes until a handful of rivals have been eliminated.
Finally, get some friends and create a team. Brawl Stars is heavily team-based – apart from the solo Showdown mode, but there is also the option for duos –, so it’s vital to play with someone that you know what is doing and how to set up some interesting tactics. Use close-range brawlers in maps with more bushes and corners, and long-range brawlers in maps that have wider areas.
When I first played Brawl Stars, I was somewhat foolishly disappointed by its slow pace. It took me a couple of matches to come to terms with the character movement speed, and then I realized that this more pondered approach was probably chosen as to benefit the tactical side of things and avoid the pitfalls of mindless run and gun gameplay.
Controls are as simple as they can be, but movement may feel a bit sluggish and takes some getting used to, in particular when it comes to cornering. You direct your brawler using the left virtual joystick, while the right joystick is used to shoot. You can either shoot directly to the closest enemy by frantically tapping, or drag to aim the shot, something that is far from recommended, as battles in Brawl Star can be over in a matter of seconds.
No matter what kind of attack your brawler uses (melee or ranged), there is a reload or recharge timer set in place. At lower levels, you’ll have an agonizingly low attack power, which coupled with the waiting times before you can punch, shoot or throw again may be bothersome. Luckily the upgrades will come fast and furious and deliver a more enjoyable, fluid gameplay.
Each brawler has a super move that can be charged using regular attacks. You can also aim the super, something that is utterly recommended as it can make the difference between living and dying, and some supers destroy the environment as well and open new pathways. There is a Star Power ability, or passive, to unlock at power level 9, but it’s not like it will be immediately ready to use – you need to ‘find’ it, as it is made available through brawl boxes. Not the most reasonable kind of unlock, to be honest.
Upgrading your brawler’s power level is vital and requires both power points and coins. Power points are usually handed out tied to a specific brawler, but occasionally you get to choose the one that will be on the receiving end. As you upgrade your brawler, his health, attack and super stats increase.
Monetization also shows its face by means of additional skins for each brawler. If you want to change the look of your main character, you’d better get some gems to buy a skin.
Matchmaking is a hot topic when it comes to Brawl Stars, leading to many heated debates. Supercell has released a fix in December 2018 for the broken matchmaking and the least I can say is that most of the times, the teams seem to be balanced in brawler trophies and power level. You will step upon the occasional mishap, as you can clearly see in the screenshot below, but overall, it’s not as tragic as it was during soft-launch.
A Brawl a Day Upgrades Your Brawlers All the Way
There are a few events, or game modes, in rotation, a method that won’t be appreciated by everyone as this means that a personal favorite may be unavailable for a day or two. You can also try your luck with special events and daily events, as soon as these are unlocked.
Now let’s look at the game modes. Showdown is one of my favorites, as it can be played based solely on your individual skill and tactics. This is clearly a Battle Royale mode in every detail and can be played solo or in duos, with a limit of ten players in the arena. The twist comes with the power cubes – get as many as you can and check your level before engaging in a fight with a superior brawler. I find this mode to be unbelievably fun, despite a complete lack of originality.
Gem Grab is one of the first modes that you will try in Brawl Stars. It is a 3v3 mode where the first team to hold ten gems during a countdown is the winner. You can grab gems from the mine in the middle of the arena or frag your enemies for the gems that they are holding. There is a lot of back and forth in this mode, as the gems switch sides frequently.
Heist is a 3v3 mode where each team must destroy the rival’s safe. If time runs out before this happens, the winning team is the one that did the most damage to the opponent’s safe.
Bounty is another 3v3 mode like Gem Grab, only in this case you are fighting for stars. Each defeated enemy will get you a star up to a total of seven stars. The team that has the most stars when the timer runs out wins the battle.
Brawl Ball is a 3v3 soccer-inspired game mode. As the name states, you must fight for possession of the ball and take it to the opposing team’s goal.
Robo Rumble is a horde mode where three players must defend a safe from robot bandits. Increasingly difficult waves will put you to the test, evidently with higher rewards as well.
Boss Fight is a ticket event where a team of three need to cooperate to defeat the huge robot that keeps following them around.
Finally, Big Game is a 5v1 event where one player is the Big Brawler and a team of five hunters tries to take him down. The boss starts with a huge power and health advantage and his goal is to remain alive for as long as he can, while the hunter team must take the boss down.
Brawl Stars was in soft-launch for so long and soon you’ll realize why that happened. Supercell has worked on the tiniest details to deliver a gameplay experience that rivals and eventually surpasses that of Clash Royale. The ‘only one more game’ appeal is undeniably strong, almost impossible to resist, as you experiment with the different brawlers and watch the hours fly by in your favorite game mode.
It may not be perfect and feel occasionally too simple, but Brawl Stars is one of the most enjoyable time sinks that you will find on mobile devices.
It’s hard to pinpoint an original feature in Brawl Stars. Supercell isn’t reputed for creating revolutionary concepts; instead, they excel at picking up a popular design and polishing it to the extreme, until it becomes a new benchmark.
Learning Curve: 8/10
In ten minutes or so, you’ll feel like you’ve played Brawl Stars for years. Even the game modes are extremely simple to grasp, following the probable design rule that oriented development: easy to play, hard to master.
Graphics / Sound: 8/10
The cartoon graphics look nice, albeit more with a functional design in mind – don’t expect impressive visual embellishments or highly detailed models, because that isn’t the case here. The character design is clever and makes each brawler easily distinguishable in the heat of battle.
Each brawler has a few one-liners that are often funny and are delivered with top-notch quality voice acting. You won’t lack explosions and all kinds of projectile sound effects as well, along with a few catchy tunes to go along.
Value for Money: 8/10
As a free game supported by micro-transactions, Brawl Stars doesn’t force you to spend a dime. You’ll get a lot of enjoyment as a free player, but if you want to let your competitive nature run wild, you should consider making a detour to the cash shop. It’s obvious that there are mechanics in place trying to lure you (such as the free loot that you can get from… the cash shop), but in the end it depends on your entire will and purposes.
Brawl Stars is a very good game at this point and I have no doubt that it will grow even more and become a worldwide hit, another one for Clash of Clans and Clash Royale developer Supercell. Sacrificing originality for the sake of pure gameplay and raw enjoyment, Brawl Stars comes out highly recommended.
• Tremendously addictive
• Colorful and unique cast of brawlers
• Fun for casual and hardcore players
• Derivative game modes
• Too simple for its ambitious goals?