While it’s generally good to keep an open mind writing about anything—games included—I’d be lying if I said I don’t carry around a slight prejudice toward mobile games. I play them, sure, though not nearly as much as console or PC games. But in my experience, all but the very best games on mobile pale in comparison to those on other platforms.
That’s why I was surprised by my hands-on time with LEGO Brawls, an Apple Arcade exclusive making the leap to console and PC this summer. With one asterisk I’ll get to later, I would never have guessed that this is a game that started life on phones and tablets. Instead, it’s a full-featured casual brawler with a lot to offer, one that feels like it was designed for a controller from the start.
The other major surprise, at least for me, was how LEGO Brawls plays. When I hear “family-friendly brawler,” my knee jerk reaction is to interpret that as “Smash Bros. clone.” But that’s not the case here. While you are jumping around 2D stages and battling against multiple opponents at once, this ain’t no platform fighter. Gameplay is more like a traditional multiplayer game, with different objective based modes. And combat is all about bringing your competition’s health to zero, not knocking them off the stage.
During my hands-on, I got to try out three modes: a standard deathmatch, where players (or teams) compete to get the most eliminations before time runs out, a King of the Hill–style mode that’s all about holding a central point for longer than the other team, and Free-for-Brawl, which gives every player a limited number of lives in a competition to be the last minifig standing. In all three modes, much of the action centers around battling for the power-ups that spawn in each stage, in randomized boxes that call to mind Mario Kart.
While stages have their own specific spawn pool, you also equip a loadout of your own power-ups for a chance to grab them during matches. The special abilities they unlock can range from incredibly situational, like a jetpack that’s good for making a quick escape from a stage hazard or enemy attack, to the seemingly unstoppable, like a stage-specific UFO that lets you fly around blasting people with a whole bunch of extra health.
Though the particulars of gameplay are a far cry from Smash Bros., LEGO Brawls does an admirable job channeling the same sense of mayhem. It should work well as a couch co-op game, with support for 8 players on one consoles (though it caps at 4 on PlayStation due to hardware limitations). There’s also, of course, online support, though I can’t vouch for how smoothly that works just yet.
Apart from the standard action of individual matches, there’s also a progression system that allows you to unlock more parts to customize your fighters—taken from a wide variety of LEGO themes, including a Jurassic World set—as well as new weapon skins and power-ups to equip.
It’s in this aspect that LEGO Brawls clearly benefits from its prior mobile release. The developers at Red Games have had nearly three years to refine and expand the game on iOS. Thanks to regular releases of new content, there will be a broad selection of goodies to try out and unlock from day one on consoles.
And the particulars of how LEGO Brawls released on mobile are also a boon. By launching as part of Apple Arcade’s subscription service, the game was able to avoid some of the most annoying aspects of mobile gaming, namely intrusive ads and aggressive monetization through in-app purchases. In making the jump to consoles, Red Games didn’t have to strip out microtransactions (or, worse yet, carry them over). When you buy the game, everything on the disc is there waiting to be unlocked through gameplay alone. While there’s a system similar to a battle pass for progression—you can pick which LEGO theme you unlock items from with the experience you earn—you don’t have to pay to access them, beyond the cost of the game itself.
Still, there’s thing that felt just a little bit off about my time with LEGO Brawls—the asterisk I mentioned above. My attacks felt like they lacked a bit of impact. Without having the game in front of me, I can’t exactly put my finger on the culprit. It might be a byproduct of the animation, or of insufficient knockback from attacks, or of how Red Games implemented force feedback on the controller. (In fact, I can’t actually say for certain that there was rumble when I played.) It’s a minor critique, and a vague one at that, I know, but the lack of physicality was the only area where Red Games’ mobile roots peeked through. I’m used the big, impactful combat of console brawlers, and the comparative subtlety of LEGO Brawls felt a bit
Of course, I can’t be certain the issue wasn’t a factor of demo setup, and there’s nothing that says Red Games can’t give the game a bit more oomph at launch or even after. That’s the magic of a game like LEGO Brawls, one that gets constant updates based on player feedback. If the core is solid, the details can be worked out later. And I think LEGO Brawls has a pretty solid core.
LEGO Brawls launches this summer on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC via Steam. It’s already out on iOS through Apple Arcade.