This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.
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Boy, isn’t Battle Royale great. Squat in a bush for twenty minutes before getting forced to move on and sniped by a dude who might as well have been on the fucking moon. It was only the whittling of many people down to one like a truly devastating fart in an assembly hall that was the interesting part, so I’m surprised it took as long as it did for gaming in general to start applying it to gameplay models other than “whoever finds the sniper rifle first wins.”
Here’s some ideas just off the top of my head: Battle Royale Euro Truck Simulator, the winner is the first to get nine tons of baby nappies to Lyon. Or Battle Royale LA Noire. 100 detectives in a living room, and all the ones that failed to notice the 1940’s housewife guiltily breaking eye contact get kicked out. Well now, Fall Guys is doing its bit by giving us Battle Royale Mario Party. Well, sort of. More like just all the Mario Party minigames most guaranteed to provoke screaming arguments between nine year olds. The premise is, you are one of sixty ambulatory sex toys being whittled down to one by a series of Takeshi’s Castle stroke Total Wipeout style elimination challenges. All dressed up in brightly coloured foam padding like we’re all trapped forever in the sadistic dreams of a disgruntled bouncy castle.
The attraction of the profoundly unnecessarily subtitled Fall Guys (HUURH) Ultimate Knockout is its accessibility. No more worrying about snipers with 4K monitors and twitch mouse reflexes and literally nothing to do all day but practice and wait for the conveyer belt to deposit chicken nuggets into their mouths – here you can run around and jump and wobble your little sex toy head and know that nobody can wobble any better than anyone else.
Well, having said that, it might take you a few games to realise you can press X to dive while jumping and get a little boosty over certain hazards, but that’s not much of a skill ceiling, that’s like, economy class passenger cabin ceiling at most. And once you do figure it out you’ll have more fun dunking on all the noobs that pile up under the slightly trickier jumps like the reject pile at the buttplug factory. But maybe that’s the wrong attitude. I came first on precisely one occasion in my time playing – thank you, hold your applause – and can report that the grand prize on offer is a whole one token, five of which are needed to buy one of the fancier hats. Bit stingy, but it means there’s no reason to get into a competitive mindset, is my point.
Yeah, I know, telling multiplayer gamers not to get too competitive is like telling Stabbity Jack the Stabbing Fiend of Stab Street to maybe rein the stabbing in a bit. One time I was in the final round and someone got declared the winner when everyone else was still halfway up the hill. Don’t tell me people are actually hacking this fucking game. Or finding physics exploits. That’s like rigging up a sophisticated concealed vacuum device to cheat at Hungry Hungry Hippos. Seems like a lot of misplaced effort to win something that other people win fairly reliably just by flinging themselves at the controls for long enough.
For there is still a very large luck component in succeeding at the game, especially when you’re one of nineteen buttplugs trying to squeeze through the same passage at once. And every time the game randomly pulled out the fruit matching memory game, it was pure chance whether or not I’d keep playing or roll my eyes hard enough to permanently blind myself. ‘Cos it’s shit. All the chaotic fun is replaced with staring at a monitor waiting for the Simon Says prompt. It’s like having to hold up the soggy biscuit game for five minutes ‘cos the loser insisted on looking up whether or not spunk is kosher.
Actually the longer I played, the more minigames got added to the “provokes a sigh of annoyance every time it pops up like a cat who wants head scratches while you’re trying to perform urgent brain surgery” pile. I grew to hate basically all the team games because, while the other games test your individual platforming and fruit recognition abilities, the only thing being tested in team games is your ability to randomly get grouped with people who know what the fuck they’re doing, and in, say, Tail Touch, whether or not I diligently keep my arse to the wall like a nervous drama student in a Greek bathhouse means precisely fuck all for my prospects of qualifying for the next round if everyone else on my team is parading around like a pack of ticket dispensers.
And I dread every game that involves pushing giant balls around, partly for the obvious sense of testicular inadequacy, partly because maneuvering those things as a team is like trying to navigate a shopping trolley full of unwilling fat people into an aerobic’s class. But there I go again letting the competitive mindset take over, and making me actually want to try to win like some kind of sport liking person or similar freak.
Taking a broader look, Fall Guys could do with some stronger theming. Theoretically this is a game about spectacle so it’s a bit lame how your character just vanishes when they fall into the slime below. I’m pretty sure 90% of the appeal of shows like Total Wipeout is watching dumb plebs fall into the water with a big spectacular splash and laughing as all their aspirations for a better life are washed away with the pondwater they are forced to spend the afternoon wringing out of their chafing jockstraps. So yeah, some kind of splash animation or the option to perform a swan dive wouldn’t have gone amiss. And perhaps a little more context.
The implication is that we’re appearing on a game show, but there’s no host, no audience, no little cutaway interviews with the contestants to add some extra emotion to their upcoming ritual humiliation. I wouldn’t have minded penning a few remarks that could appear in a speech bubble as a giant comedy boot kicks me out of the tournament. It’s more like they took one of those gameshows and cut out everything but the action, which sounds good on paper, but were I a cynical man I might say… oh hold on I read that wrong. I, a cynical man, might say the game is entirely built around flogging cosmetics from the micropayment shop.
I wish this shit would cunting well fuck off, if you’ll pardon my dense academic jargon. I guess it’s not as bad as in some games and it only stands out so much because the game is so generally contextually vacuous, but I still remember a time, gentle viewers, when we hoped for things to be nice, not for things to be not quite so awful for once. With all that in mind, there’s a lot of rather depressing metaphor going on in the subtext of Fall Guys. Here we are, a shapeless blob amid a field of identical shapeless blobs struggling over each other and pushing each other down so we can be the one to be marked out as special and granted a special hat.
But your new hat and esteemed status goes unnoticed as the other shapeless blobs are too busy striving for their own hats to appreciate it. Only the people running the show truly gain and the only way to become one of those is to have been one all along. For the rest of us, the struggle only begets more struggle until the day we finally give up and drop unmourned into the slime forever. The slime, in this metaphor, representing an enormous ocean of stale cum.