There is something inherently scary about Battle Royales. The competitive element at their core lends the genre to a sense of fear; some players talk about the ‘battle royale anxiety‘ they experience as they drop in and fight for the crown, while others comment on the exclusionary feelings that can arise when coming to any battle royale months, or even days, after the game’s initial release. It’s a huge turn off for many players and is one of the reasons that even I tend to steer clear of the genre. But Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has made waves in breaking down this battle royale barrier.
Released by Tonic Games Group in August last year, Fall Guys is a battle royale drowning in a never-ending sugar rush. Cute, colourful, and incredibly chaotic, this game might not be the first to come to mind when discussing battle royales. Playing as 1 of 60 jellybean characters, the game asks you to scramble through a range of increasingly wild levels with the sole goal of surviving and snatching that elusive crown. This setting is immediately attractive, particularly to those who associate Battle Royales with urban landscapes and lethal load-outs.
So much of this attraction comes from the way that the games’ style silently reflects one of the core aspects of its gameplay, which in turn distances itself from the negative connotations of the genre: luck. Fall Guys is reliant on chance as much as (if not more so) than skill. Lowering the stakes by upping the antics, the game creates a welcoming environment that promotes fun over victory and doesn’t punish players for not sinking hours into perfecting their skills.
Now, do you remember Total Wipeout (or Wipeout for American audiences)? The show brought contestants together in a series of obstacle courses, each more demanding, and deranged, than the last. Competitors came in all shapes and sizes, some even having trained for months. Yet at the end of the day, all it took for elimination to occur was being unlucky enough for it to have rained that day or for a group to find themselves in the ‘Dizzy Dummies’ stage rather than ‘The Dreadmill’. Place those same contestants in Ninja Warrior UK and they’d be in for a very different experience. There, luck is merely a bonus. Skill, ability, and a whole lot of upper body strength is required for success. Both were fun and engaging shows to watch, but I’m confident that most people sitting at home would rather take on Wipeout’s ‘Big Red Balls’ challenge than start training for Ninja Warrior’s agility course.
Fall Guys is to the likes of Warzone or Fortnite what Total Wipeout is to Ninja Warrior UK. When luck has so much standing in a battle royale, that game is sure to encourage an accessible space where anyone can play – whether you’ve been practising for months or are playing for the first time. It’s helped further by the level designs: after a handful of runs in Fall Guys, players become familiar with the challenges, from Door Dash to Hex-A-Gone.
The sense of certainty that comes with this is hugely overlooked; while other battle royales also maintain a fixed space of play, there is so much randomness in it. Who drops where? Who gets the guns first? What kind of players will you be going against? It’s a form of design that inadvertently promotes a sense of inequality before the game even begins and can be anxiety-inducing for many. By instead giving players a fixed start at every stage, which are themselves sprinkled with colourful variety ensuring every run-through is different, Fall Guys continues to attract players to a genre that can otherwise be incredibly intimidating.
Once you’re in and ready to go, Fall Guys continues its celebration of silliness over success through its mechanics, asking players to do nothing more complex than jump, grab, or dive. Yes, even I get the buttons mixed up every now and then, but unlike other battle royales, the game lowers its general entry to heighten its accessibility. Most often, games in the genre allow players to strategise their playstyles and optimise their load-outs, whether you’re a sniper lying in wait in Warzone or a builder gaining higher ground in Fortnite. Fall Guys does the opposite: it asks you to co-op as well as to compete, it strips everything away mechanically and replaces it with a rush of colour and energy – it takes a step back and puts everyone on a level playing field.
This simplicity in its system also makes Fall Guys one of the most accessible battle royales for disabled gamers. In a review for Can I Play That? journalist Grant Stoner commented on how “it is so refreshing to know that physically disabled individuals can finally enjoy a barrier-free title”. This is a barrier that many don’t have to consider and yet Tonic Games Group ensured it was a barrier removed simply by placing fun at its core. We laugh at ourselves and we rage at jellybeans, knowing that their squidgy designs are crafted for comedic failure. It’s why the ‘game show’ set-up works so well in tandem with the games’ restrained mechanics. Fall Guys isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
Now part of the Epic Games family, the future of Fall Guys is exciting, to say the least. Seeing how the company helped Fortnite and Rocket League evolve, we can only hope they continue to make it an entertaining and accessible experience for players across platforms. Because at the end of the day, Fall Guys is a fantastic example of what the battle royale genre can be and how games, whatever their format or genre, can work for players as a whole rather than the few.
And while I still haven’t sunk much time into Warzone or PUBG myself, I have given them a go. But without Fall Guys, I don’t know if I would have even done that.