Made by: Mediatonic
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Playstation 4, PC
Release date: 04/08/2020
Emoji summary: 😅🥇😷
Review by: GDLP
This week’s review of Fall Guys is long overdue. I almost feel the need to apologise for waiting so long to write about it. When the game came out last August, it immediately went viral. Everyone on Twitch fell into a Fall Guys hole, and BTS even played it on their show. I got caught up in the excitement like everybody else did but I also carried on playing long after that hype died down. I’m glad I’ve waited until now to write about it though because just two days before publishing this text I finally won my first game, and now I know what it is I want to say.
If you aren’t familiar, I can give you a run down. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a fully online 3D platform battle royale in which 60 little beans play against one another in the hopes of winning a virtual game show. That’s a long sentence but it’s a simple game: it’s a platformer framed as a wacky show. High colours, fast music, cheering. Cartoon cameras fly overhead to keep an eye on all the action. There’s a buzz, an urgency. The atmosphere is exciting and tense.
There are usually 4-6 rounds players need to complete, and the number of qualifying spaces gets smaller and smaller as the rounds go on. So, whilst 60 might begin, only 12 might make it to the final showdown before 1 bean takes home a virtual crown. Levels come in four types: race, survival, team and finale. And players can do a few basic moves: run, jump, dive and grab. Everybody in the game runs at the same speed.
The levels on offer are absurd but very readable, and they are constantly changing. You might have to race across a series of giant see-saws floating in mid-air, and then scramble to stay on when the weight of the other beans alongside you tilts a see-saw dangerously to one side. You might have to run flat-out to burst through rows of doors, not knowing which doors are real and which ones the fake. My favourite level requires you to jump over a moving beam as it turns faster and faster around a circle. But Slime Climb is probably Fall Guys’ most notorious design — a vertical zig-zagging course with a rising sea-level of pink slime you simply have to outrun. And levels are often a mix of obstacles: conveyor belts, spring hatches on the floor, fans that stop you in your tracks and plenty of moving targets to swerve, dodge and conquer. Sometimes you don’t move in the right way at the right time and you fall off a level, hence the name of the game.
Yeah, I think you are just born to love some things. My Mum says that as soon I could stand, I started to climb. She’d find me on top of the radiator or pulling myself up the curtains like a baby Olympian. I met the world and found it was a giant obstacle course around me. I wanted to master it, I thought it was fun. And as I grew up and got bigger, I have looked for situations where the world can be a big obstacle course again; bigger radiator, bigger curtains. I can’t call it a hobby or an interest, that’s too shallow. Whatever this is, it’s like a spirit-thing inside of me. I have always loved the adventure and thrill of movement; I’ve always enjoyed feeling like my body is ready and endless, agile and nimble, wherever I am and wherever I go.
When I was in primary school, I thought I saw Father Christmas on the roof. I spent all break running and jumping down a hill next to my classroom because I thought if I went fast enough I could get up there — it was the first time I’d ever been told off in school, so I remember it clearly. I was a little athletics kid, loved running as fast as my legs could carry me. Wide open space meant room to spin around and then dramatically look up at the sky so I could test my balance. But I fell a lot and my knees were always cut up, so much so my family nickname went from Gab to Scabbo.
For whatever reason, my Mum was happy indulging this hyperactivity. She used to take me and my sister to a nearby adventure park for kids called The Crocky Trail. It is a lawless place I still think about to this day. There were kamikaze slides in the car park as way of an entrance, and huge sloped rooms inside with slippy floors you had to try and escape. I would lose my footing on the giant metal hamster wheel, tip-toe across logs over muddy ditches; and we’d go home at the end of the day bruised, tired and happy in our little souls.
I’ve travelled a lot, hiked through jungles. I did Tough Mudder a few years ago too. I shot down into an ice bath, ran through a curtain of live wires, and did my elbow in climbing over a brick wall. I loved it. I also started doing Kung Fu a few months before lockdown one, and last year finally started running 5Ks around the park. And I mention all of this to say: I’ve had a good time in my body. I don’t think it’s ever been about exercise per se, just a funny love of movement and learning how to move in new ways.
Hopefully it is clear then why I would enjoy a game like Fall Guys — it is all of this spirit condensed and cartoonified. We suit each other well. But to be honest, after Fall Guys launched, I only ever played it in small, specific moments. It was a game that waited for me in my periphery. I’d throw it on for a round or two while I was waiting for something in the oven, or I’d play it for an hour as a palette-cleanser between big narrative games — games I cared much more about. Fall Guys always stayed this light, fun thing that could last as long as I needed it to. It was like an after-school snack in my adult life. And so, even though we were a good match, I never thought about it much. But suddenly and recently that has changed.
At the beginning of the year, I got COVID and it stuck around, becoming long COVID. My body now drags an anchor of fatigue, it trembles with muscle pain, and I can only dream of doing the sorts of things I’ve described to you. It’s shit. I’ve gone from taking on wild adventures to being this still, sore girl on the couch; a girl, I should add, who is now playing Fall Guys every day for hours. I think basically what has happened is that I didn’t used to need this game and now I do. I was doing fine, doing the most, but now I need every little inch of what it can offer me. Sometimes, I’m too tired to be a person that stands up and does the dishes, but I’m also too in pain to concentrate enough to do any work on my laptop. My body is on standby, and it’s in those exact hours I play. I play to access my own nostalgia for movement, to emulate and perform it. And whilst it’s cool and sweet that I can simulate a big mad obstacle course in a video game like this, there are deeper aspects of Fall Guys’ design that has made it such good company over these weird long COVID months.
Fall Guys is lined with comedy and optimism all the way through its character design, level design, art style, and I think it’s there in the playership as well.
We all look like beans, for starters. We’re all round and clumsy. We’re also wearing costumes. At the end of every game, you get points for your participation called kudos, and these can be used in the game’s shop. You can be a disco ball, an alien, a banana, a koala. The list is endless and the combinations are too. There are collaborations with other titles as well so your Fall Guys bean can be an Among Us bean instead (which makes more sense than the Sonic collaboration, given the fixed speed). I was playing as the Easter Bunny in recent weeks until I realised wearing a metallic skin helped me better identify myself from the crowd, so now I’m a cool glacial blue.
It might seem trite to start off by mentioning the costumes but it speaks to something about how Fall Guys is able to humble us all and level out any overly intense competitiveness by pushing silliness to the front. I think this, at least. I’m sure there are people who get that good game rage when things don’t go to plan but I don’t. I don’t feel shame or anger when I miss out on qualifying. Losing feels very forgivable here, and it’s light in a way I need it to be right now. With everyone in fancy dress, it makes the whole game feel like a charity fun run; and it pushes the atmosphere of Fall Guys away from a Ninja Warrior extreme athleticism to something more akin to the slapstick casual-hero approach of a show like Takeshi’s Castle.
A themed course, slippy floors, running into fake doors, avoiding projectiles and qualifying through a number of rounds before a small group take on the dramatic finale. Fall Guys is Takeshi’s Castle the game. The Japanese game show was a perfect combination of movement challenged in this baby-learning-to-walk kind of way, a fantastical story to frame the obstacle courses, quite a large amount of pure dumb luck to get you through the thing, and a crowd of contestants that looked like they had come here straight from work. Fall Guys shares these qualities. Both create so much room for comedy because they are games that have a looseness about them; they’re not just for athletes and e-athletes, they’re for us — the masses. And it’s much funnier to watch normal people have a go at it; they end up falling everywhere. Fall Guys has absorbed this too. After you’ve qualified and before a game ends (or if you’ve landed in the slime on a survival level and you’re out), you can stick around to watch the other players. Fall Guys is therefore not just a game show you can play but one you can watch as well. A treat again and again.
It has become a total salve for me in recent times. And now that I’m pinned in one place and playing it every day, I’m noticing and appreciating so much I never saw before, or never paid real attention to when I was only playing in that occasional, bitty way. I think it’s sweet when people get to the finish line early and hang out there instead of stepping over it to qualify. I’ve started doing it too, hanging out. I’ll look over the lay of the land, do emotes, grab other players who are also pressing grab so it looks like we are hugging; and I’ll pretend we’re all hanging back to give other players more time to finish the game — maybe we’re stalling for kids who are playing for the first time and still getting to grips with the controls. I am definitely projecting but that’s a nice thing to project.
Plus, now I’m so up close and personal with the game… I’ve gotten so much better. I reach the finale all the time nowadays. I’ve learnt how to be better from watching the other players around me; I’ve followed their tricks and shortcuts and I’ve learnt when it’s better to wait a second rather than always ploughing ahead. Because of this very recent improvement, I started to think a win might be in my future. I didn’t know when it might finally happen though, and more than that, I didn’t know if I cared that much about winning; I’ve enjoyed it all this time without ever getting there, which I think says a lot. But —
Rewind the time machine to just two days ago, Friday 23 April:
I’d completed phase one of moving house, which meant moving out of my flat and into my support bubble’s for the week before we get given the keys to the next place. A multiplier on the long COVID fatigue, it’s been exhausting packing up; and I stupidly went up and down the stairs too many times carrying the last bits out the doors with me. It set off some intense muscle pain in my legs that lasted all day. I took some paracetamol and it did nothing, my legs were still on fire. Fine, okay — I tried to ignore the buzzing in my thighs by playing Fall Guys with three of my cousins on party chat. My fiancé was also in the living room, doing a bit of work behind me.
We had a few warm up games and then on the third or fourth go, we really went for it. In the end, it was just me and my cousin Samantha in the finale. It was Thin Ice, a survival game with a platform made up of icy hexagons stuck together. When you touch a hexagon, it cracks under your feet and once a tile has been touched a few times, it disappears completely. There are only 3 layers of these tiles and then it’s the good TV trope slime below that means elimination. I felt the adrenaline rising. And as the game was loading, I said to everyone, ‘I came second on this last night.’ I did. I’ve been playing it so much.
Deep breaths. I decided to take it slow. I thought, okay, the ice breaking shouldn’t be cause for panic; it sort of buys me some time to choose where I’m going to jump to next. I tried not to look at anybody else, only down at the hexagons around me. Deep blue shapes; the ice cracking sounded musical. There were beans running all over the show and I was scared to bump into somebody incase they grabbed me and I went flying. Got to avoid the beans. I forgot how much my legs were hurting because I was so involved. Samantha fell off, and I was still going brick to brick. Now, all the cousins were watching me from their screens at home.
There was a point where I had to carefully go down a thin path and then double back on myself. I felt a forced calm. Not much ice left. Then, I needed to dive across a big gap and over the slime to reach a small cluster of tiles that remained. I saw there was only me and one other person left, saw they were diving for it too. We reached it at the same time, the ice cracked, and we both fell into the slime together… A gold badge popped up on the screen and I literally screamed. All my cousins were screaming too. I’d won. My first ever finale win in all these months of playing; playing it every now and then, and now it playing it always. So cinematic, so fun. So crazy that my cousins were watching. Michael had put down his work to see the finale too, and when I’d stopped reeling, he said to me, ‘now you have an ending for the review.’
I like the way it feels to play Fall Guys as a sick person when the challenge the game serves us all is a battle royale, i.e. a survival of the fittest. I won a game and I’m the most broken I’ve ever been, the slowest, the most in pain. It’s like the game and I have an agreement, an inside-joke; it knows I am an imposter that couldn’t do any of this in real life but it’s allowed me to slip in round the back and enter with the other competitors anyway, just for kicks. The thing is, the same can probably be said for everybody else playing as well — we’re all there having a go, we couldn’t really do this if it was a real life course, there’s no way. And yeah, I am well aware this text is like the conspiracy guy meme but it’s me stapling together so many thoughts and feelings and calling it a review. But I believe what I’m saying. This win feels twice as big happening now, feels meant to be. Fall Guys is my favourite company in this state, and even though I miss the way I used to feel and the way I used to move, I forgot all about that when I was screaming down the mic. I just felt happy instead.
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