STAFF REVIEW of Mayhem Brawler (Xbox One)

Tuesday, September 7, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Mayhem Brawler Box art Ever since my earliest gaming days on the NES, I’ve been a fan of Beat Em’ Ups/Brawlers since my first time spending dozens of hours with Double Dragon. From there I moved onto Battle Toads, Final Fight and Streets of Rage just to name a few. While the genre isn’t as popular as it once was back in the day, there’s been a couple titles lately that have put Beat Em’ Ups back into the spotlight. The latest is Mayhem Brawler from Hero Concept, a Beat Em’ Up that brings back some of that classic 90’s nostalgia with its difficulty but has a decent comic book style aesthetic that’s easy to look at.

You are a part of Stronghold, a team of super-powered officers that are tasked with not just fighting crime, but will need to eventually save the whole city from different threats. You choose from Dolphin, Star or Trouble, three distinct officers with their own style, movesets and playstyle. Trouble looks as though Abraham from The Walking Dead got mixed with a werewolf, Dolphin is your musclebound slow but strong character and Star is the telekinetic female officer of the team.

The storyline takes place across comic book style boxes, all voiced decently and with a very colorful palette. Mayhem Brawler doesn’t take itself too seriously and has some comedic tones to its narrative, even sometimes breaking the fourth wall. During these story sections there’s also a fake Twitter on the right side of the screen with fans reacting to what’s going on. It’s an interesting narrative choice but is certainly unique.

You begin by checking out a situation unfolding at the local docks, but as you complete each level you’re given an option of different places to check out, each with their own backdrop, enemies and sometimes bosses as well. Each level choice isn’t just simply a different background environment either, as it will actually change the flow and outcome of the story going forward and even have three different endings available to try and get.

The comic style aesthetic is done quite well, especially the level selection as it’s offered as if you’re choosing a favorite comic book cover with a description of what your choice entails narrative wise. These comic covers are done really well, something I’d probably actually read if it was offered in real life. Complete the campaign and you’ll unlock Arcade mode, a much harder version that offers a decent challenge for those wanting more.

There are multiple difficulties, ranging from Cadet, Officer, Superhero, and Legend (described as ‘You were the best Beat Em’ Up player in the neighborhood’). I started on Officer, assuming it was the ‘Normal’ difficulty, but got wrecked quite quickly. There are a ton of enemies that have super cheap moves and attacks that can make quick work of you, so I had to go through it multiple times on Cadet, as it’s quite challenging solo.

Like basically any other Beat Em’ Up, you control your character along the playfield as a 2D sidescroller, clearing an area before it lets you move further to the right, eventually culminating in a boss fight. You spam the ‘X’ button to attack, ‘Y’ performs your special move, ‘A’ jumps and ‘Right Bumper’ is how you block. It’s not very common to have a block in a Brawler, and even on my third playthrough I would forget to rely on it, though I would highly suggest doing so as a good portion of the enemies will cheaply projectile kill you from afar if you don’t block and rush them.

Having three different playable characters means you’re going to want to do a playthrough with each at least once, but the level and story choices in between stages will offer at least a few more should you wish. Sadly there’s only local co-op, so I got my daughter to play with me for one of the runs and I had a fun hour with the kid, but she was done after that single playthrough and had little interest to do it all over again with a different character. Online co-op would have definitely added some longevity to the title, so it’s a shame that it’s absent.

You play a Beat Em’ Up for its combat, and Mayhem Brawler is no different. You’ll fight and combo against regular enemies with weapons, pipes, knives and guns, eventually facing off against more supernatural enemies like witches, wererats, werewolves, vampires, ghouls and more. Some enemies are quite basic and will simply attack if you get close, others will try to stay at a distance and simply fire their gun or projectiles at you, so you need to absolutely prioritize taking them out first. Bosses have three different phases, adding a handful of extra enemies as well between each. Most have some easy tells to distinguish before they perform some super strong move, so you just have to be careful and pick your times to go in and lay the beat down before backing away.

Defeat an enemy wielding a weapon like knives, guns, crowbars, swords and you’ll be able to pick them up and use them for yourself for a couple of hits. Usually after three hits it breaks and that’s all you get, but they do a great deal of damage. Get hit and knocked down while you’re holding a weapon though and you’ll drop it, so maybe you’ll want to toss it across the screen at those annoying projectile tossing enemies instead so you can close the gap while they recover.

Like most Brawlers, you’ll gain health by destroying barrels and eating whatever food you come across. While playing multiplayer you’ll need to communicate and organize who takes what food and when, as someone with just a sliver of health remaining can eat and take the cooked turkey, a full heal, whereas the person with barely any life left should be the one to eat it instead.

Your special attack with the ‘Y’ button has limited use, tied to a blue bar under your health, but this can refill as you do more in combat or eat certain foods. It’s not a full screen clear type of move, but will definitely help you get out of some sticky situations when you become surrounded by a handful of enemies. I was hoping there was going to be some sort of super move or team-up specials, but sadly there aren’t.

Mayhem Brawler nails the colorful and vibrant comic book aesthetic, as the backgrounds and characters are all drawn quite well, though the animations aren’t the smoothest I’ve seen. The soundtrack is about what you’d expect as well, giving some decent beats to have your head bop to as you pound some enemies into the ground, and it was great to have all of the cutscene sections actually voiced, even if the delivery was adequate at best.

Without any online multiplayer, I can’t see myself going back to this anytime soon unless my daughter randomly wants to play it again with me sometime. Mayhem Brawler is fully competent as a Beat Em’ up, checking off all the boxes, but doesn’t do much else to stand amongst the classics that we’ve seen many times before.

**Mayhem Brawler was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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