Review: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

As this console generation continues to wind down, it becomes tougher to deny how much of an impact the rise of the battle royale genre has had and will likely continue to have on games moving forward for the foreseeable future. Although it originally got its start on PC through the early access version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds back in 2017, the game’s eventual launch on consoles followed by the staggering success stories of the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone has cemented the genre’s legacy, as the dozens of players and weapons jammed inside huge but rapidly-shrinking sandboxes allow for a nearly endless amount of unique and memorable encounters as small squads fight to be the last man standing. While shooters are typically the obvious central mechanic for battle royales to thrive on, other developers have also attempted to augment their core gameplay into a one-vs-all experience, allowing for titles like Tetris 99 and modes like “The Eliminator” in Forza Horizon 4 to find their own niche audiences. Mediatonic, a long-time web and mobile developer whose previous original titles include Murder by Numbers and Foul Play, are the latest studio to throw their hat into the crowded ring with Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, a colorful and chaotic sixty player free-for-all where your jelly bean-shaped character is tasked with surviving solo and team-based challenges inspired by the likes of Mario Party, Wipeout and Takeshi’s Castle. Despite its reluctance to fully utilize its catalog of events and some intermittent server issues, Fall Guys’ ease of access, surprisingly deep gameplay and jolly presentation combine for a consistently enjoyable alternate take on the battle royale.

Right from the start, Fall Guys’ simplicity shines through its brief text-based tutorials, quickly establishing the three button control scheme as well as your overall goal to strive for. All of Fall Guys minigames solely rely on some combination of jumping, diving and grabbing to accomplish their goal. Diving can provide an extra boost when done in mid-air to help secure your chance of succeeding on longer jumps, but the head-first nature of these leaps can lead to some unintended mishaps. Meanwhile, grabbing serves a variety of purposes, including stealing tails from other players in one of its several tag-adjacent events, pulling yourself up onto ledges or holding your opponents in place for several seconds while they mash the jump button, which is one of the only ways to intentionally troll your fellow competitors. With so few mechanics to figure out, Fall Guys embraces accessibility in a clear manner that makes it instantly appeal to gamers of all ages and skill levels.

At launch, Fall Guys offers twenty five minigames across five categories, with each play session, or Episode, consisting of four to six different events that rely on individual accomplishments or team-based cooperation. The most common minigame genre is Race, which are obstacle courses filled with the likes of spinning or slime-coated platforms, wrecking balls and giant pieces of fruit to slow players down as they attempt to reach the finish line before the majority of their opponents. Team events separate players into two to four color-coded groups as they attempt to silently gather eggs, push giant balls or jump through hoops with the goal of not being the lowest-scoring squad once the timer runs out. There are also a few survival games, where you must outlast your bean buddies and avoid the pink slime below, as well as one logic game that involves memorizing tiles with different fruit icons that gradually increases in difficulty. If you manage to complete enough of these challenges and survive to the final group of competitors, you’ll be presented with one final event that truly encompasses the vibe of battle royales, as only one player can emerge victorious in one of the four available minigames. Each of these events feature text descriptions during both the loading screen and brief intro that play beforehand, making them easy to comprehend before the action officially gets underway.

Outside of the sense of curiosity that comes with encountering new events during the early hours of play, Fall Guys continues to remain entertaining thanks to the turbulent spectacle of the large number of players that populate the first couple of rounds, coupled alongside the surprising depth of gameplay that becomes more apparent in later rounds. Due to the less-than-graceful nature of the fabiform with limbs that you control, with their stubby legs and huge bodies, relatively simple tasks like balancing on see saws or piling through crowded doors often leads to frequent stumbles and falls, which is only amplified by everyone around you attempting to accomplish that same goal. Instead of trying to figure out how to perform the impossible and fully avoid tripping or floundering around, Fall Guys’ low stakes and quick turnaround between matches encourage players to keep getting back up and discover the nuances of how your character reacts to the chaos at hand, making it gradually easier to maintain your balance and focus more on reaching the finish line or keeping your team’s lead. As a result, reliable strategies for the more frequent events start to become more readily apparent, and there’s a clear sense of pride that emerges with regularly seeing yourself among the top 20% or even first place in races, which also presents the opportunity to become more acquainted with the challenging final minigames and raise your chances of getting those first place crowns.

Despite the decent variety of available events, the algorithm that Fall Guys uses to determine the next minigame can at times seem a little on the repetitive side. While typical episodes will feature most of the available event categories, specific minigames seem to be chosen far more frequently, with Hoopsie Daisy and Roll Out appearing far too frequently during our playtime despite other team and survival minigames that could take advantage of a similar player count. These small frustrations at seeing the same event over and over are only furthered by the intermittent server issues in its first week, which surpassed the expected amount of leeway given to online games when the servers were under maintenance for nearly the entirety of the first Friday after launch. Plus, the lack of a records section that would provide an easy way to track your different medals in each event, as well as your overall crown count, seems like a clear missed opportunity, which will hopefully be added down the line alongside further server stability and some adjustments to the event algorithm.

Your Fall Guy avatar can be dressed up in amusing ways, with different colors, patterns, clothing items and emotes that increase in number as you play more episodes. The first season, which is set to last for two months, currently has a level cap of forty, with each level up resulting in more customization options or a preset amount of one of the game’s two currencies, Kudos and Crowns. While both of these currencies can be obtained solely through gameplay, players will receive extra crowns for winning an episode, and can purchase Kudos with real world money, which can be used in the game’s shop to acquire new customization options which rotate on a daily basis. With such a contract between the low level cap and the lengthy period of time before the next season, one could likely expect to see that cap raised before the second season kicks off in October, which will likely correlate with the promise of new levels and new features that should give Fall Guys the best opportunity to keep its current audience invested.

From the kickoff of the first event, Fall Guys’ vibrant presentation is instantly appealing, with bright pinks and yellows that further contribute to the game show vibes of the various levels. The upbeat soundtrack, accompanied with the yelps and squeals of the players, does an equally effective job of capturing the chaos of sixty six-foot jelly beans bumbling across the player’s screen, while also not being too distracting to lessen the player’s concentration during the more intense moments. Outside of the aforementioned server issues, Fall Guys’ technical performance is mostly solid on both platforms, with a minimal amount of glitches and impressively little lag while participating, even with the high amount of collisions and quick reflexes that most minigames require, although it can become a little more noticeable while spectating other players after your elimination. At launch, there are no private servers available, which is a little more disappointing since you can only invite up to three other players to join you, likely to help avoid any issues of cheating during the handful of team-based events. Although there have been no issues since the launch of any minigames that were unable to be completed, we did encounter two instances while playing Jinxed in the pre-release state where the event would not reach its conclusion for various reasons, but have not re-encountered Jinxed during our playtime on launch week to verify that these issues have been fully resolved.

Closing Comments:

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout capitalizes on its bold and wacky take of the battle royale genre through its polished gameplay and wide variety of minigames that make it easy to pick up and tough to master. The brightly-colored chaos and unpredictability of the events on screen are just as fun to partake in as they are to watch, but the full experience is held back by a few repetitive events and several stumbles at launch including missing features and unreliable server performance. Despite its low price tag, the vague roadmap and bare bones nature of Fall Guys is hard to ignore, raising some sustainability questions as the game aims to remain relevant in a crowded market in the weeks and months to come. But for now, Fall Guys is easily one of the most widely accessible and consistently amusing massive multiplayer games of this year, as the race for the next crown continues to remain just as thrilling after hours of matches.