The title of this preview pretty much sums up Gang Beasts in a nutshell. A multiplayer PC beat 'em up from new developer Boneloaf, the rather strangely-named Gang Beasts bears more than a passing resemblance to Nintendo's highly popular multiplayer beat 'em up. Its similarities include multiplayer fighting action, enclosed arenas in which the combatants go about their business, the onus being on knocking players out of the ring, rather than killing them, and the winner invariably being the last person standing."
However, from here on in, the games diverge. Super Smash Brothers is a high-end, character driven game, whereas Gang Beasts is more simplistic in its approach. Characters are pudgy and nearly featureless; almost like a non-textured Sack Boy from LittleBigPlanet. They move in a similar way too – and here's where Gang Beasts offers something that is perhaps the antithesis of the high-speed, highly kinetic game I've been comparing it to. In LittleBigPlanet, characters are renown for moving like they're carrying some weight. Running takes a few fractions of a second to get going, and stopping isn't instantaneous. There's a distinct feeling of inertia.
Gang Beasts is basically the same. As you move your character around, you have to allow for its heft, and weight transfer when it wants to move in another direction. That feeling of weight also extends to jumping, where there is a distinctly floaty feel to the proceedings. Under normal circumstances in a game requiring precision movement, this would not be desirable. But in Gang Beasts, it works surprisingly well.
Much of the reason for that, counter-intuitive though it might sound, is the vague controls and sometimes almost drunken-feeling movement actually enhances the game's fun, rather than lessens it. As the up to eight participants come together, it's almost like a bunch of giant Gummi Bears are rucking. You can grab someone and drag them around if you get a good enough grip. You can pick people up and throw them. As you do, the game's funky gravity makes things slightly unpredictable. Perhaps your throw will result in one of your enemies arcing gracefully into a meat grinder. Sometimes they'll bounce off the railings in a weird way, and that person might be able to grab something and pull themselves out.
And therein lies the hilarity.
I mentioned meat grinders, and yes, that is the general gist of this game, and the reason why the headline of this article says what it does. Gang Beasts' arenas have been designed by someone with a nicely twisted sense of humor. There are levels where you can roast your opponent in flames, and another where everyone fights atop a group of moving trucks. My particular favorite was the level where everyone fights on a suspended platform (the thing used to wash skyscraper windows). As the participants move around, the cradles rock and swing, and you can even mess with the cables and perhaps send someone tumbling to their doom.
Everything's very freeform and open, or in rather more descriptive language, it's a total fustercluck. The action is basically a bunch of wobbly humanoids punching and dragging each other around. Sometimes ganging up on each other, or sometimes fighting as pairs. It's a complete mess, but a really glorious mess. What this game does is make you laugh. It's stupid, but stupid in the best sense of the word. It's slow, meaning anyone can pick it up and keep track of the action. The controls are simple, and the slightly fudgy responsiveness is actually a pretty good field-leveler. Because there's a slight lack of precision, it gives everyone a fighting chance.
If you're a serious fighting game fanatic, that might not sound like the material for tournament-quality gameplay, and you'd be right. But Gang Beasts is not about that. That's not to say it isn't competitive – it most certainly is. It's just that first and foremost it wants to be a platform for fun: a sloppy mess of a fighting game where players can do sick and twisted things to each other in slightly ponderous and drunken-feeling ways.
Gang Beasts certainly delivers that. When playing it with others – even strangers – it never took more than a few seconds before the players were talking and laughing. To me, that makes it the perfect party game – and a damn good video gaming pick-me-up in general.