Not long ago, it seemed like Nintendo would be the last bastion of couch/party multiplayer games with the likes of Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart. Once online play took hold, and the FPS market abandoned the idea, fewer and fewer titles hit the shelves with support for multiple players on a single machine. Then came the indies, and suddenly everything is good again. Now we have absolute classics such as Towerfall: Ascension, Rocket League, Gang Beasts, and even stupidly fun co-op games like Overcooked to bring the fun back home. Brief Battles, developed by the Adelaide-based Juicy Cupcake, hopes to find a place among them with its underwear-themed multiplayer action. While thematically it clearly shoots for a younger audience, this one’s actually packing more in its tighty-whities than first appears.
Brief Battles, at its core, is a single-screen multiplayer brawler where the goal is to ‘pop’ your opponents to earn points, with the person holding the most points at the end of each timed round declared winner. Players each pick from a roster of potato-shaped characters and duke it out with both their deadly butt stomp ability and a variety of weapon pickups that appear over the course of battle. It’s a fairly standard kind of setup, but there are a few nice variations that keep it interesting. Players can stick to and move up walls and ceilings, for starters, which helps keep everyone constantly moving and makes for some great, skilled plays. Powerups range from ice bullets to fireballs, powerful dash moves and more, and there are even a few tricky booby-trapped pickups to keep everyone on their toes. Portals and environmental hazards keep things spicy as well — popping yourself by falling on spikes or off the stage takes away points, and there’s nothing like chasing someone all over the screen only to land a fireball on them through a portal on the opposite side.
Aside from the standard match type, there are also a few decent variations. Knockout is a last-man-standing mode where players compete to survive five total rounds, and Underpants Collector is, well, a race to collect the most underpants. The real star mode though is Hold the Gold, where players fight to steal a pair of golden undies and attempt to hold them for a cumulative total of 20 seconds. Any time I introduced a new group of people to Brief Battles, this ended up being the go-to game type. As fun as it is to beat each other up, there’s something about the freedom of movement and intricacies of the stages that makes it so much fun to just run for your life. It’s also a lot more simple and therefore easier for newcomers and non-gamers to get into. It feels obvious to point out, but in all of these modes it’s definitely preferable to have a full roster of four players. Brief Battles isn’t an overly complex game, and its arenas are designed to encourage covering distance, so matches with fewer people can fluctuate between overly drawn-out and disappointingly brief.
If you are only rocking a group of two, or even on your own, the good news is that Brief Battles also features a robust Challenge mode. Here you’ll find a set of succinct tutorials as well as four different challenge types for either strictly solo or optional co-op play. Underpants Collector and Tighty Whitey Targets are both solo modes that task the player with either collecting briefs or destroying targets against a timer over a series of 50+ levels per mode. Butt-em-up Battles and Endless Butt-em-up both ask up to two players to survive against waves of monsters using the game’s existing powerups, either against varying conditions or in an endless survival mode. It’s not often a game like this gets the kind of robust solo/co-op offering that Brief Battles has (outside of Nintendo), so it’s great to see. Best of all, playing through these unlocks additional characters including some fantastic indie cameos from the likes of Machinarium and Yooka-Laylee. Considering Juicy Cupcake’s two-man development team status, it means a lot that the game is as polished and fully-featured as it is.
Something I’d usually be all over but have only lightly touched on so far though, is underwear. Brief Battles, as if it wasn’t already obvious from the name and the imagery, is themed entirely on underwear, for better or worse. Although all of the adult friends that I had try out the game with me enjoyed the moment-to-moment action, they were pretty unanimously confused about the obsessions with underclothes, and I had to keep reminding them (and myself) that this is probably aimed at a much younger audience. At least, I hope so. I don’t mind a bit of silly toilet humour (in small doses) but Brief Battles isn’t even going for that, it just…has a lot of undies in it? The character designs are all a bit ‘early 90s children’s fiction’ as well, but they go alright, and the stages always look nice and vibrant and sharp. The way that a lot of powerups alter the character’s appearances is quite a nice touch as well. Musically, there’s not a lot to say other than the background tracks do a pretty decent job of conveying just how frantic and tense some rounds can become.
Unlike putting your Mum’s panties on for the first time, Brief Battles isn’t going to change anyone’s life. Like a good pair of tighty-whities fresh from the dryer though, it’s a simple, comfortable good time that only gets better with friends by your side (no? just me? okay). Without the obsessions with unmentionables it might have attracted a wider audience, but as a game for younger players, families or family-friendly parties it’s a great time.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher