Mayhem Brawler celebrates the arcade and comic book era of the early ’90s. Side-scrolling beat’em ups populated arcades and hyper proportioned characters dominated comic shops. Any player with nostalgia for this era or a willingness to engage in the time period have a lot to enjoy. Mayhem Brawler by developer Hero Concept proudly wears its’ inspiration and the style resonates in gameplay and presentation. Mayhem Brawler stands out in a crowded genre through a love of the concept, innovative branching story, and satisfying action.
Publisher: Hero Concept
Release Date: August 19, 2021
Mayhem Brawler is developed and published by Hero Concept. It is a small game studio in Istanbul, Turkey which published only two other games (one shows up in a level). But their attention to detail in the art, music, and gameplay demonstrate an experience level that sets the game above others in the genre. Like most beat’em ups, the game starts with a character select screen. The three characters, Trouble (all around), Dolphin (heavy melee attack), and Star (agile special attack) each rely on a similar move set of punches, kicks, jump kicks, and special attacks. Think, Wolverine, Colossus, and Dazzler from the 1992 X-Men arcade game. The variety fits with other entries in the genre and provides a slightly different combat experience and strategy.
Mayhem Brawler is a traditional side-scrolling beat’em up. Enemies drop weapons, bosses call in reinforcements, barrels contain items (sugary items replenish the special attack and food replenishes health), and other standards of the genre. While the combat is not as fluid as 2019’s Streets of Rage 4 it fits nicely for the era. Therefore, no juggling combo system is present, but enemies can be juggled in the air for an additional hit or two. Wisely, the game uses both a health meter and a special attack meter. Successful attacks or taking damage builds up the special meter. This allows each character to use their unique close-up and directional attacks. These special attacks provide crowd control and protect from projectile attacks. Occasionally the vertical placement of an enemy is difficult to judge, but this improved with experience.
Story / Plot
While the gameplay is reminiscent and consistent, the story is unique. Mayhem Brawler creates a branching story that provides the player a choice between levels and story beats. As a result, the levels and bosses change based on the choice. Ultimately concluding in one of three final stages and bosses. Starting down a branching path still opens up some levels from other choices, but each story path contains some unique levels. Therefore, multiple playthroughs are required to see every level and ending. In addition, a fake social media feed between levels provides world-building and backstory. The feed also includes humorous commentary on the violent nature of the genre. Mayhem Brawler’s branching story and world-building greatly add to the replay value and incentivizes the player to keep playing.
Graphics and music
Hero Concept honors the time period through the comic art style and the guitar rock soundtrack. Each level opens with a comic book cover with a style matching early Image Comics. The hand-drawn characters are fluid and animate well. The developers add details with movement in the background and across the stage. Each stage contains unique music related to the enemy types and settings. In later stages, as enemies return, the same musical cues return as well. The art style and music may not resonate with every player. Regardless, the developers achieve the setting and vibe of the early `90s.
The 1990’s vibe still carries over some of the over-sexualization popular in comics of the time. Mayhem Brawler evokes Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and J. Scott Campbell’s artwork in character design and level select screens. Consequently, this includes all the styles and problematic character designs. Another concern is the lack of drop-in or online co-op modes. Couch co-op is appropriate for the genre and optional friendly damage adds a sense of competition. But only selecting multiple players to the start of a game limits the availability of local multiplayer. A patch could add this in a future update but is not present at the launch.
Mayhem Brawler successfully captures the style of fun of the early 1990’s arcade beat’em ups and comics. Even though the combat system is not as deep as others in the genre, it is fluid and fair. While the limited co-op options hold the game back, the branching story provides a reason to keep playing again and again. The $20 price point works out to be about how many quarters are needed to finish all the story and is worth the investment.
Disclosure: Publisher provided a PS4 review copy