‘Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout’: A delightful, creative new take on battle royale

Released on August 4 for PlayStation 4 and PC, “Fall Guys” is a battle royale game unlike any I’ve ever played (and that’s great, considering the genre rarely strays from the norm). Yes, you’re still facing off against others in hopes of being the last one standing, but “Fall Guys” swaps guns for silly minigames akin to “Mario Party.” Pitting you against 59 others, you complete frenzied challenges, some competitive, others cooperative. With every passing round, minigames are randomized and a slew of players are eliminated, narrowing the batch until a final trial. If you’re disqualified, you can continue spectating, which is often just as amusing as playing.

“Fall Guys” doesn’t take itself seriously, and that’s one of the best things about it. You waddle, trip and tumble your way to victory in a vibrant world of obstacle courses and arenas, primed with brightly colored gym mats, pools of pink slime, and teetering seesaws.

Each minigame has a different and wildly entertaining premise, revolving around platforming, luck or teamwork. You navigate through different trials, attempting to reach a finish line or meet an objective. For example, in Gate Crash, you bash into a series of real and fake doors alongside a swarm of players, all hoping to find the correct path to the finish line. Other times you’re joining efforts to push a gigantic ball down an incline as an opposing team attempts the same, or picking tails off opponents’ backsides (or protecting your own) in a clever twist of the classic game of tag.

Some minigames are in the form of ludicrous obstacle courses, similar to what you’d see in the television show “Wipeout.” You avoid hindrances like closing gates, moving structures, or even oversized fruit that tumbles down a mountain toward you. The gameplay is complemented by wacky rag doll physics; your character goes flying after being hit by a spinning propeller, for example.

With 25 minigames, there’s a good starting variety at launch, but Mediatonic, the game’s developer, will have to continuously support the game to keep things fresh for longtime players. Thankfully, this is something they’re vowing to do with upcoming seasons.

Another area they’ll need to monitor is server performance. The game ran without issues during two open beta sessions, but “Fall Guys” had a particularly rough launch day resulting in constant server disconnections, matchmaking interruptions and other errors. Mediatonic was overwhelmed by the popularity of the game, which skyrocketed to the top of Steam and Twitch charts immediately upon release. As a small team, Mediatonic is facing its share of challenges to accommodate the large player base. Hopefully server stability is addressed promptly enough, because when this game works smoothly, there’s a lot to enjoy.

“Fall Guys” has a steady progression system, where you can earn two forms of currency: crowns (from winning a match) and kudos (from playing in general, or bought via microtransactions). These are used to buy cosmetics, like a pack of fast-food costumes, to swap your character into a french fries get-up. You can also unlock skins simply by playing the game, and the designs — like pirate attire or a rainbow tutu — are all delightfully whimsical.

“Fall Guys” is chaotic, and much of the fun comes from seeing everyone struggling to make their way through a dense crowd or avoid getting pushed off platforms. Moments of unpredictability arise all the time: My favorites have revolved around last-minute turnabouts, where I qualify to advance to the next round at the last second because of luck or a perfectly-timed move. Other times, uncertainty comes from the behaviors of others. If you’re in a team, the rest of your group’s performance makes or breaks your chances of moving on.

With no text or voice chat, you only have a number of emotes to communicate, unless you opt to set up a party chat via Discord or PlayStation Network. For a game focused on wholesome fun, this is an appreciated move, leaving little room for toxicity in a genre that often struggles to moderate harmful behavior.

That doesn’t mean griefing doesn’t exist in “Fall Guys.” The game isn’t always fair, which could be a point of frustration for some. You can grab or be grabbed by others at any time; in some minigames, this is a vital maneuver to win (such as grabbing someone’s tail in Tail Tag), whereas in others, it can mean being unceremoniously shoved to your death regardless of your efforts. Some players camp out at a finish line to grab others before they can get through, and this can result in the captured player’s elimination, preventing them from advancing to the following round.

Yet, these issues were never enough to distract from my overall positive experience. The entertainment in “Fall Guys” doesn’t just come from winning. It’s about laughing at your clumsiness as you trip over your own feet and as you learn from each defeat about how to best survive the next match. For a game that doesn’t take itself seriously, it’s hard to rage or let “Fall Guys” get the better of me. Seeing my character or my friends collapse, spin out of control and get launched into the air is just too much fun to pass up.

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