Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is less of a royal fight and more of a madcap lighthearted gameshow, with 60 lively, pillowy, bumbling players constantly ricocheting each other off. This newest multiplayer outing from Mediatonic Games (Gears POP!, Murder by Numbers) is also technically the first foray into the battle royal room by Devolver Digital, even though the studio does seem to be shying away from the genre classification.
It seems like a new royal war is creeping into the market every week, stealing a HUD feature here and a game mode out of what has happened before, but fall guys are claiming their own unique room in the noise. Now with the open technological beta, players will see what the game brings to the table, but those critical post-launch months will probably be the ones that assess the experience’s staying power and how it evolves alongside its community.
Above everything, Fall Guys is sweet and light-hearted in tone. The playing fall guy character is a blank slate that looks like a rubbery sausage with arms, and often moves like one, fumbling about and sometimes getting knocked off balance. A the range of wearable cosmetics means that most people would look different in a 60-player match, although the freebies of the early beta mean that there are plenty of fitted wolf costumes and Gordon Freeman / Headcrab skins (the latter one is especially adorable). Playing through matches, as planned, awards a kind of currency called “kudos” and “crowns,” and levels up the player, allowing greater access to more cosmetics. There are absolutely no apparent P2W elements, although it seems likely that the superfans who want every outfit will eventually have some sort of direct currency purchase option.
The game is divided into rounds consisting of a “show,” with the starting 60 players often culling down to 44 in the first round. Through round randomly chooses from a number of types of game, and some types appear in order to be reserved for specific rounds. There are competitions, such as seeing who can stay on top of a multi-sectioned spinning log with incoming hazards, to obstacle courses, team-based matches and survival games without respawn. Beginning with it is a relatively decent combination, but it’s a little surprising that certain events seem to be solely bound to the round number; for example, the first round will always be a sprint and never a team game.
Besides its round-based structure or game show inspiration, its cheery, bubblegum aesthetic is the first thing that hits players when starting Fall Guys. Competitive or no, the contestants look goofy and completely unsound in tone, and levels tend to be made entirely from child-safe foam mallets and playpen pieces. Characters can’t “die” in some visual way, so there is no dismembering or something like that, while they the fall down bottomless pits and be pinballed around the vibrant levels. Players can also catch each other briefly and stymie a well-timed jump, but can also wriggle out of each other’s grip. “We didn’t want the game to become this constant brawl,” Joe concludes. “It’s not supposed to be like, a fighting game.”
Senior level designer Megan Ralph stresses the variety of different rounds and future games:
I guess the reason we wanted to ruin someone else’s game is by having a number of different types of rounds … with various games to play. Others are based on memory and intuition, there are rounds of survival where you literally have to wait a timer by avoiding something. There are items like this, which doesn’t really underline the opportunity to drag people off anything or ruin their game. I think there is a mix there. Most of the stuff we’ve seen was physical, but there’s an equal amount of levels like, standing on a wall, or recalling pictures.
These types of games, known as “logic” often pop up with the beta underway. Another has players standing on a set of tiles with spinning fruit photos on them, so one fruit will appear on a screen — remember the tile with that fruit and stop avoiding a pitfall. In the most part, however, the most popular activity appears to be race / obstacle courses, which can be both enjoyable and challenging.
Similar to any other royal fight, a Fall Guys race can either go off without a hitch or thrown into a stumble loop over minimal mistake. On the last leg, a flawless run can be destroyed by missing a jump or bumping off at the most inopportune moment from another player. Ironically, a fair number of races in our play experience featured a single player dawdling near the finish line, opting to neglect completing the race before attempting to catch a few players right before qualifying; no matter how cute a game looks, grievers are bound to get out of the woodwork.
In the most part, that’s not exactly how Fall Guys works, and a fair amount of game errors appear to have little to do with a sniping griever than just the jumbled action itself. Obstacle courses are often bottleneck in certain hot zones, where stamping player crowds push and pull against turnstile gates or a player attempting to make a tricky leap is promptly run over. That’s where the premium energy of the game seems to be concentrated, the unavoidable confusion of 60 people searching for the same carrot — or, as Joe puts it: “When we first developed the game, we wanted to have shenanigans there.”
Fall Guys plans to have 25 separate games at launch, although the latest beta seems to have withheld a few. The first two rounds seem to loop all the time around a very small handful of stages, but hopefully these are just a sample bid. Several games are also much more fun than others — Door Dash asks players to select a randomly assigned correct route and is a regular introduction round during beta, while Fruit Chute’s surprise Round 3 game could be a better thrill, with players trying to anticipate the tumble of careening oversized fruit down a conveyer belt.
Grouping with friends is an option, although it currently maxes out teamplay at four. When a teammate is disqualified, they may prefer to hang on while their friends move home, but over time this may be tiring. With a sufficiently large base of players, the game may benefit greatly from a special team-based mode that either focuses on the competitive team games or simply removes players by squad. One downside to the current configuration is later matches being drained of players if several group members are excluded and the qualified members also want to exit and re-queue.
That’s more of a technological obstacle to conquer than a gameplay one, and with this being a pre-launch version, Fall Guys is running very smoothly. There was no single bug or game-break, matches are popping up in less than a minute, and there is no long lobby to wait through. When inside, players are thrown straight into the first round, given a level view, then a countdown of 3 levels. Miss the first round and they that re-queue, but some failures are definitely more stingy than others.
The game’s bright kid-centric veneer may scare off the shotgun-pumping gamer crowd, but the king-of-the-hill thrill that comes from taking the crown in Fall Guys might just be the perfect middle ground. So long so requeuing remains dynamic, having another go at this game show can be very enjoyable and some of the levels are a blast — apart from the aforementioned Fruit Chute, Egg Scramble is an enjoyable and messy team-based level where players try to collect and catch the most eggs, and Hoopsie Daisie allows teams to score points by jumping through rings that spawn randomly in the stage.
There is no question that children would love Fall Guys and the lack of in-game chat channels makes the interaction as friendly and innocuous as possible for unattended games. Spending time playing something competitive without dealing playing racial epithets and nasty public game talk is good too. It’s a fairly large scale multiplayer, with no forced interaction apart from a cute emote … And possibly grabbing another player before they win.