Mayhem Brawler has exploded since its release on Steam, and it’s the kind of game that’s easy to ignore. It’s a classic beat ’em up with a small cast of characters, a handful of environments, and a very simple story. There’s nothing especially exciting about the gameplay, and it’s unlikely you’ll remember the story after you finish your first playthrough. Everything here is functional, and the game is undeniably fun.

If you’ve ever been to a major city in the United States, you’ve probably seen the signs. “NO PARKING ANYTIME” or “NO PARKING AFTER X HOURS”. These signs are meant to keep cars off the streets and curb traffic flow in major cities. In many cases, these signs are fairly common and are the norm. After all, it’s far better to not have tons of cars driving on the streets, right? Well, most people don’t see things from the point of view of the people living in these cities.

Back in the day, I had a bit of an obsession with the movie Street Fighter. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve played Street Fighter 4 to death. In fact, I know a few of you will also be fans of the series, so we’ll try to make this review as comprehensive as we can. But first, let’s talk about the game. Mayhem Brawler is a fighting game that seems to take the ideas behind Street Fighter 4 and combine them with the game BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. The result is a game that plays a lot like Street Fighter 4, but with a little more flair and a pinch of Calamity Trigger.

When you first start playing Hero Concept’s Mayhem Brawler, you may assume it’s a Streets of Rage 4 fan game. To be honest, it isn’t an unjust assumption. Many aspects of its presentation and gameplay make it seem as though it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the newest installment in the beat’em up series. 

That’s just fine. The Takeover, Fight’N Rage, River City Girls, and other indie games have always had a tiny but constant thread of ’90s nostalgia running through them, and Streets of Rage 4 was always going to be a disaster in that environment. At the very least, Mayhem Brawler has picked its role models well.

The Streets are Only Sort of Annoyed in Mayhem Brawler

However, this makes it a difficult sell. Mayhem Brawler isn’t a perfect match for SoR4, but it’s certainly not as refined. It’s hampered by a slew of little annoyances, and it falls short of SoR4’s high standards, despite the fact that I had more fun than I anticipated going through it with a few of friends.

Mayhem Brawler is worth a look if you’ve played a lot of other beat’em ups recently and are looking for just one more to fill that punchy hole in your heart, but there are a lot of other games I’d suggest cracking open before you play this one. 

Magic, monsters, and superhumans are all part of daily life in Mayhem City. When a problem arises, it is dealt with by Stronghold, a group of armed cops who seem to maintain the peace via the use of extreme violence.

Trouble, a bearded junkie with claws and a habit of using excessive force; Dolphin, who is what occurs when a pro wrestler and a shark fall in love; and the social media-savvy and telekinetic Star are the group’s members.

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Trouble, Dolphin, and Star break a smuggling enterprise after a commotion at the docks, which leads them to a scheme in which an unknown entity has taken the corpse of a dead superhuman with intentions to convert her abilities into a bomb.

It’s an urban fantasy/superhero hybrid presented through the perspective of American comics, with hand-drawn, interactive still panels serving as cutscenes between levels. The premise is that you’re going through many issues of the Mayhem comic, with story branching given as a decision between two future pieces of cover art.

Mayhem Brawler’s concept is interesting for an arcade game, and the levels are short enough that you can play it many times as you explore all of its stages. In addition, the visual design goes out of its way to give each character and setting a distinct personality.

It doesn’t exactly work, and I believe that some of it is due to international misunderstanding. Mayhem Brawler is obviously set in the United States, yet Hero Concept is based in Istanbul, Turkey, and the screenplay was clearly not localized by an American.

mayhem-brawler-f3714That’s it. I have no clue what you’re talking about.

 

Some of the gags are unexpectedly hilarious, such as Star’s enraged Twitter followers (she’s trying so hard to be a good role model, but her fans aren’t having it), while others are complete non-sequiturs or make no sense at all.

The remainder of the issues stem from a really bizarre narrative decision. All three playable characters are seasoned super-cops who frequently allude to previous incidents, old adversaries, and supernatural politics as though the viewer is reading the Lonely Planet guide to Mayhem City. You can piece things together based on context, but most of the narrative ends up seeming like the second installment of a trilogy.

It’s similar to what the American comics community refers to as “continuity porn,” where it’s aimed at long-time fans but inaccessible to newcomers. While this is a decent way to describe how it felt to read superhero comics in the 1990s, it’s odd in a solo video game.

You have the right to be as punchable as you want to be.

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If you’ve ever played a ’90s or ’90s-styled beat’em up, the gameplay of Mayhem Brawler should be immediately recognizable. A basic attack that leads to a combo string, a rushed assault, and a slap that grips an opponent by moving into them are all available.

Every character has a special attack, similar to Streets of Rage 4, which activates a large amount of invincibility frames. Unlike the previous title, though, this is controlled by a meter underneath your health bar. If you suffer damage, the meter quickly replenishes, and it can also be replenished by items like coffee.

The special strike may be utilized to disrupt opponent grips and combo chains, as well as acting as a strange kind of return mechanism. You presumably have a full special attack meter if you’re having your head handed to you, which provides you a little more breathing space just when you need it most.

A minor annoyance is that as you go through the game, every other opponent seems to have a grab or combo string — or both. You’ll get grabbed much more frequently than you have meter to break it on your first run through Mayhem Brawler, giving the game a purposefully unfair feel similar to classic arcade games. 

You can also block, although on a casual run, I haven’t found it very helpful. The assaults you’d want to use it against don’t seem to be blockable, and you’d be better off performing the classic arcade beat-’em-up dodge and weave the rest of the time. 

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It’s worth noting that the foes have a lot of personality, which is a plus. Instead of being rushed by six clones of one person or palette swaps with different names, Hero Concept has gone out of its effort to mix up its formula, so many of the rank-and-file opponents have significant variations in their design. 

You’ll encounter and beat up lycanthropes, vampires, Blade want tobe “half-bloods,” ghosts, genies, hired shooters, and small-time wizards dressed in streetwear. In addition to that.

When armed opponents are knocked unconscious, they drop their weapons, but the weapons in Mayhem Brawler are extremely strong.

A baseball bat or crowbar only lasts three or four hits, yet that’s plenty to knock down a common opponent or deplete a boss’s health. Guns are less powerful per hit, but they induce a status condition that forces a victim to suffer more damage for a few seconds thereafter.

mayhembrawler-lycanthropes-d2fa5

I appreciate how Mayhem Brawler handles such situations. When a player’s or an opponent’s condition changes, symbols appear above their heads, allowing you to see at a glance if an attack is uninterruptible or whether an adversary has an invincible wake-up option. It’s something I’d love to see in more beat’em ups since it takes a lot of the guessing out of figuring out a strategy. 

The stages, on the other hand, are inconsistent, giving Mayhem Brawler an uneven difficulty curve. The genies, in particular, are significantly overtuned, with a body splash that seems to strike half of the screen at once, resulting in an easy 25% damage.

It’s also aggravating that you’re always avoiding shots and that your weapons are continually weaker than those held by your opponents. 

I wasn’t pleased when I attempted Mayhem Brawler on my own because of all these little annoyances. However, I was astonished by how much the experience increased when I played with a few buddies. While a few levels remain meat grinders, it’s obvious that the whole game was built with co-op in mind, and solo play was at best an afterthought.

Review of Mayhem Brawler – The Bottom Line

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Pros

  • A fairly effective arcade brawler with a lot of fun.
  • Co-op for three players
  • 3 distinct characters, each having their own set of moves
  • It’s a lot better written than you would think.
  • A fun multiplayer game that is just a few minutes long.

Cons

  • It’s not much fun to be alone.
  • Unusual balance problems
  • A few of shaky animations
  • Some of the jokes are completely unintentional.

Mayhem Brawler is a decent game. It’s a perfectly competent arcade beat-’em-up set in an oddly constructed yet intriguing universe. It’s even hilarious at moments, but the writing might be tightened up a little. You could do a lot worse for a cheap indie for your next couch co-op session.

Hero Concepts has created an enjoyable atmosphere and a playable game. Mayhem Brawler 2, with less grating fighting, may be a game changer.

The fact that Streets of Rage 4 exists is its greatest flaw. Mayhem Brawler is solely recommended to individuals who have previously defeated SoR4 and want to go on to something new. When you want steak, I’m not going to give you a hamburger, and I’m not going to suggest Mayhem Brawler over SoR4.

[Note: The copy of Mayhem Brawler utilized for this review was supplied by Hero Concept.]

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