Mediatonic’s Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was, without question, one of the purest, most joyful games I played at E3 this year. It’s a colourful game show on steroids, filled with physics-based nonsense that is as exhilarating as it is funny. It mashes up the chaos of games such as Gang Beasts and Human Fall Flat alongside the more structured nature of the battle royales genre.
Directly comparing Fall Guys to that genre would be a mistake, however. You can call it a battle royale, but it has far more in common with 1980’s Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle (Better known in America as MXC), than it does to the likes of Fortnite. In that series, contestants would be whittled down over a series of over-the-top games until only one was left standing at the end of the final round. Fall Guys behaves similarly, as 100 people compete in challenges until one player is quite literally crowned champion.
“It’s in [the style of] a physics game show like Amerian Ninja Warrior,” Mediatonic producer Luke Borrett explained to me. “We want to have that sort of real clambering, cartoon violent sense of hecticness in a battle royale-esque setting. We’ve got one hundred players but it can be anyone’s game. There’s a Mario Party sense of simplicity where everything can go wrong at the last second.”
It’s ambitious, yet the demo I played was a good sign that the team at Mediatonic Games could pull it over. 100 player multiplayer isn’t functional yet — including myself, my demo featured three other human players — and there were only three of the planned thirty-odd minigames on display.
The first was a riff on ‘Knock Knock’, a standard Takeshi’s Castle game, called Door Dash, where a horde contestants must run through a series of breakable doors at the same time. The trick is that not all of the doors are actually breakable, meaning you have to rely on luck in order to make it through to the next wall without hitting something solid. In one session, I had the misfortune of running into four separate doors that were unbreakable before I sullenly turned around and walked through a door the AI had opened. Hope you’re in the top half of the leaderboard when it ends, because if you’re not, that’s the end of the line for you.
“There’s a certain simplicity to Door Dash that I really like,” Borrett said. “It’s the fact that in you can rely solely on your luck and charge ahead at all times, or tactically watch people plow into the door before making your choice.”
Next up was a much more aggressive game, where every player is dropped into a small room filled with simple obstacles. Half of the remaining players gain a tail, and the other half must steal a tail within a few minutes. If you don’t have a tail when times up, you’re eliminated. It is utter chaos, as players and AI scrambled to find hiding spots or jumped across platforms lined with swinging hammers in pursuit of a tail.
The final minigame and the one that will cap off every match of Fall Guys is a treacherous climb up a mountain filled with falling boulders and traps. Reach the top of the mountain, and you’ll be able to grab a gigantic crown, signifying that you are the winner. While it is meant to repeat frequently, Mediatonic aims to generate a new course with each new game in order to prevent players from mastering the same layout.
Through the accidents and the minigames, it is clear that Fall Guys is charming. The characters are reminiscent of those found in Gang Beasts, with rubbery, exaggerated limbs that make them adorable to look at, which makes their crashes and accidents all the more hilarious. I’d estimate the characters are 90% torso from a quick glance, and you are free to customize your avatar in whatever way you want thanks to a multitude of costumes and colours.
“One of the things that we’re all really proud of as a team is just how much character and identity is present,” Borrett said. “It was really important to us to have that fun, relatable little character that you can dress up and enjoy doing what you want with it in terms of the costumes. For example, you win the last round so you got a crown on your head for the next one. That sense of identity and aesthetic was really important to us.”
Fall Guys is silly, dumb fun in the best way possible. If the rest of the minigames are as good as the ones I played, 2020 has one hell of a great multiplayer game to look forward to.