Imagine a Contra-like action platformer starring three versions of Arnold Schwarzenegger, two Sylvester Stallone’s, and pretty much every other action hero badass from recent film and television history that you can imagine, and you have Devolver Digital’s Broforce.
It’s hard to believe Broforce even exists. At its very core, it’s just a sidescrolling shooter about a team of individually talented characters “liberating” the entire world from terrorism. America jokes and moral implications aside, it’s the same premise as a mediocre flash game. Despite this, Broforce ends up being an unadulterated, phenomenal experience. From the unintelligible screams you hear at the beginning, to the wailing guitar solo at the end of every level, there’s never a dull moment.
Broforce is entirely gameplay driven. With a focus on evoking classic games like Contra, Bionic Commando, and Metal Slug, each level consists of running to the right, and leaving nothing but a destruction and gore behind you. The platforming and shooting controls work for the most part, feeling very solid, if not a little wonky occasionally. With completely destructible environments, each level feels surprisingly open as well, with multiple ways to complete based on your current hero’s abilities. Intermittently, you will find cages with hooded characters you can rescue. These prisoners act as both lives and collectibles. When you rescue one, you will become a new member of Broforce, and after a certain number of rescues, a new hero will unlock to play as.
In addition to the regular stages are challenge levels. These “Covert Ops” are levels where you only have one life, and are faced with slightly more harrowing odds, such as needing a mech suit to fly from platform to platform, or being captured in an enemy base and having to be (sort of) stealthy to escape. These levels provide most of the challenge in Broforce, and while they don’t do much for you in terms of unlockables, they are well worth your time just to experience some of the more exciting moments the game has to offer.
Visually, Broforce is a pixel-art game, with some nice artwork thrown in occasionally. While pixel-art certainly plays to the late 80’s, early 90’s motif, there just isn’t anything very special about it. With other pixel-art games like Axiom Verge doing incredibly unique and visually interesting things with the pixel style, Broforce’s generic and safe look ends up being disappointing when compared to everything else the game does. What’s more, while some of the effects, such as explosions and blood, are actually really well done, they sometimes cause confusing moments. I was left more than a few times unsure of what was going on because gray smoke engulfed the screen, only to see a game over message after being shot by an unseen enemy.
Speaking of, you will be seeing that game over message a lot, accompanied by an irate screaming man. Outside of two specific heroes, you only get one hit before you’re dead, and then it’s on to the next randomized hero. Through the constant death screens, comes a zen-like determination, however. I never once felt like I couldn’t complete a level, or the need to quit and try again later. In a way, each level plays out like a puzzle, where you have to find an ideal way to deal with the enemies, or reach the end, and it’s actually a ton of fun figuring this out. Many of the heroes play differently enough that your plan is constantly evolving to include all possibilities. Yes, there are certain characters that can just blow through stages like nobody’s business, but despite the promise of constant excitement that Broforce gives, there are moments of thought as well.
Ultimately, Broforce is a statement that games don’t have to be ultra-complicated or have award-winning stories in order to be enjoyed. They just have to be games. Even for its flaws, though few, there is something for both classic and modern gamers here, be it a solid classic action platforming experience, or just so you can call Bruce Campbell “Ash Brolliams’ for a few moments.
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