Fight or Kite: Hey now, you’re Brawl Stars, get your game on, go play


A couple of weeks ago, I was at a birthday party when my nephew tugged on my sleeve and asked me if I still like to play video games. Um, yes, yes I think so. Then he asked his mom very kindly if he could show me this new game he really likes called Brawl Stars and ask whether I’ve ever heard of it. Honestly, I hadn’t, but I know he’s beginning to pick up a lot of games now that he’s a bit older and has his own Switch mini. So I was a bit bummed out when instead he grabbed his mom’s phone from the charger and pulled up a mobile game by Supercell, the studio behind the wildly popular Clash of Clans.

I also had my phone on me, so I grumbled while I downloaded it to play with him. It was fun to talk to him about the game too. I’m not sure whether he knows I write about games or thinks I’m just the nerdy uncle who likes kid games!

Either way, explained it the way someone would explain a game to a younger sibling, even adorably explaining the basic controls. He told me how it’s a kind of battle royale where you get to fight other players and pick your hero. The winner of a match is the last player left standing after all the others have already been knocked out – you know, how battle royales work. He went on and on showing me his different unlocked heroes and various skins, daily challenges, and all the other features he thought were cool. It was a bit of a bonding moment – can’t say no to that, even if it’s over a mobile game.

So with an endorsement like that, I knew this week I just had to take a deeper look at it and share it with you all. I mean, it’s just a little mobile game, right? According to the Google Play game page, it has merely… oh, OK, over 100 million downloads. Well, perhaps I really am the old curmudgeon. I hadn’t even heard of this, but it must be big. Still, our MMORPG and multiplayer readers might be like me and only dabble in the mobile gaming world, so this may come as a new game to you too.

Quick and easy mobile play

The onboarding process for playing Brawl Stars is just about as smooth as can be. You simply download the game, accept a few EULA prompts, enter your age, and away you go. The game starts out with a quick tutorial explaining that you point and shoot with your right thumb and you move around with your left thumb, and then you can build up a powerful attack if you land enough hits.

Brawl Stars very carefully and slowly builds you up with additional information about the gameplay. First comes that simple controls tutorial, followed by a BR against NPCs, and then you’re opened up to the main lobby. At first glance it really is a bit overwhelming. You’ve got character unlock tracks, battles passes, various currencies, shops, and quests. Fortunately, most of these menus are locked until after you’ve played some matches.

Usually, I’m a bit annoyed by these sorts of artificial gatekeeping walls, but I guess it actually depends how well it’s done. In this case, they open up very quickly, after only a handful of matches. And after each match, you get a few micro-tutorials (the little finger with some helpful text) telling you what to click next, why you’re clicking here, and what’s going to happen when you do.

Of course, my favorite part of Brawl Stars is that these matches are about two minutes long. Oh sweet, sweet action. I can pop in, get a battle done, and pop out all in the time it takes someone to walk into my office and ask me to go do this or that. Expertly done for a mobile game.

Tons of heroes and game modes

Certainly one of my nephew’s favorite bits was looking through and playing the different heroes available. They are supremely unique from one another, at least the half a dozen I’ve tried, and they even offer their own ultimate attack. Heroes are unlocked from the Starr Road (yes, Starr has two “r”s even though the game isn’t called Brawl Starrs). There’s currently over 70 heroes, so you have plenty to work towards.

When you play as a hero, you’ll earn currency to unlock others on a hero unlocking track. It appears to be a linear track, although some are marked as rare, super rare, legendary, and mythic. I suppose it’s a general ranking of their abilities. Given a game like this from Supercell, I would bet that there’s an easy way to pay to win with the higher-tiered heroes, but I don’t really know if they are that much stronger.

One oddity is that you can level up your heroes, at least to level 11. Why 11 and not 10? Probably because turning it up to 11 is much, much better. Still, in a BR, you don’t usually see hero levels that result in direct power increases. Leveling up a single hero doesn’t take very long at all. I think I maxed one or two in just a couple of sittings. Maybe that was because I’m using the cheap heroes when the legendary ones are even stronger. It’s a weird design choice to be sure.

As is common with a number of different games, you’ll see heroes that were clearly influenced by some other nostalgic property. The Frankenstein monster is very much on the nose. Personally, though, I was just happy I got to play as Wildernessa with just the second hero unlock. I’m sure there’s a ton of different places you’ll see a hero like her, but it’s even got Wildernessa’s bear giant dog as a summoned pet. And if you all don’t know Wildernessa from Craig of the Creek, you need to get educated. I did mention I’m the nerdy uncle.

The first game mode available to play was not particularly exciting for me. It’s a basic free-for-all BR with 10 players in a match. It’s single elimination, and there’s a green gas closing in on the map to speed you along. However, the next map was a miniature 3-on-3 soccer game. First team to score two goals or until the timer runs out. It’s quick, intense, and a blast.

What I noticed about it that really got me intrigued was that the soccer map was apparently designed by a player. This is… really awesome, actually. Apparently after you’ve played enough matches, you can unlock the map editor, which lets you create your own maps. I can’t tell exactly how they are selected; I assume the game modes themselves are set by Supercell, but players are able to design maps, which are voted on every day. I suppose means that if you win the vote today, then you’ll get featured tomorrow? I like it.

We’re talking Supercell here, so monetization is tuned to a T

Of course, it isn’t all high highs. Brawl Stars is monetized with battle passes, quicker hero unlocks, gems, skins, and the works. You want to buy a hero? You can. You want to buy XP boosts? You can.

On the positive side, I don’t see direct lockbox purchases in the store, so that’s actually nice. The shiny star boxes sort of act like lockboxes, but they appear to be daily unlocks through play, rather than something you need to buy a key for or even buy directly.

To be honest, I should walk back some of my negativity over the monetization now that I’ve been playing a regular NetEase mobile game in the form of Harry Potter: Magic Awakened. In Brawl Stars, I don’t see any bonus reward track for spending more gems, there’s no limited time mystery wheel (basically a secondary lockbox), and it doesn’t look like leveling is gated. All-in-all, I’d likely rate it as fair for mobile monetization.

There’s so much to do in this game that I think you can enjoy the game at least for a couple of weeks without letting it get in your face. Sure, the monetization is certainly going to be in your face, but I think you can really enjoy Brawl Stars despite that, at least at first. I haven’t played long enough yet to understand the real balance issues and whether those legendary heroes are truly legendary.

However, when I get a text from my nephew asking me if I want to hop onto Brawl Stars and play a few rounds together, you better believe it’s perfect for that.

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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