I spent all of yesterday morning and a fair amount of early afternoon refreshing the App Store and waiting for Brawl Stars to drop. Brawl Stars is the latest game from Supercell, the Clash Royale developer, and I've been excited about it for a while. Nobody does three minutes of multiplayer fun better than Supercell, if you ask me, and there's a peculiar kind of modest lavishness - I know that's not possible - to the way the team puts games together. What do I mean if "modest lavishness" is a bust? I mean that the features of their games are simple to get your head around - they seem so simple initially that you can't imagine much fun coming from them. But they're delivered with an astonishing attention to the way things feel, right down to the menus - and the underlying depth, as it slowly reveals itself, is wonderfully dizzying.
Anyway, Brawl Stars is very different to Clash Royale. Clash Royale is about precision that looks like chaos. So far, for me at least, Brawl Stars has a lot more fun with pure chaos. In the first mode you unlock, Gem Grab, it's 3v3, each trying to collect a certain amount of gems that spawn in the middle of the map. Once you've got your full load, you have to hold onto them for 15 seconds to win the game. All while the enemies are shooting at you, thumping you, chucking things at you and firing off supers. Movement and aiming are virtual thumbstick affairs but don't let that put you off for one second. Supers include anything from a guitar blast that heals your teammates to a friendly bear who turns up and becomes very unfriendly to anyone on the opposite team.
3v3 Gem Grab is great. But then after a while I unlocked Showdown, and Showdown is the business. Showdown is Battle Royale - a bunch of you spawn in a map and it's your job to be the last person standing. But it's Battle Royale via Supercell. Ten players, just right for a map that manages to be thrillingly snug even before the walls of poison gas start to move in. And if you're the kind of person who likes to hide in bushes in Fortnite - guilty as charged! I often have a biscuit while I'm in there - you'll be very happy with all the MOBA-style shrubbery around which makes you invisible the instant you step inside. Early on, it's tempting to whittle away at your enemies, but the best thing to do is probably to blast away at chests scattered around that offer gems that - I think - make you more powerful. Dang, but blasting away at these chests is a risk, because it tells everyone where you are, and it also uses ammo, which is limitless but respawns quite slowly. Managing the respawns is where a lot of the skill in Brawl Stars seems to come from.
Eventually, if you survive the early moments, it's time to go after the other remaining players. Man, this game is so great if you're a terrible person. I like to watch while other people blast away at each other and then I swoop in to pick off the weakened survivor. I like to watch while people open chests and then I rush through and grab the gems with a full complement of ammo. Showdown is the most predation-focused Battle Royale I've played in a while, I think. I know they're all about preying on people, but it's heightened here: health bars are visible at all times, and this completely changes the nature of the game.
Success for me so far has come down to an understanding of an interesting control wrinkle in Brawl Stars. To aim and fire your weapon, you pull the stick in the direction you're punting for and then let it go. But when you're up close, you can rely on auto-aim, which means you just jab the stick without dragging it around at all. It's much quicker, and it's much more accurate, but you have to be absolutely certain that you're close enough to your foe to make it count.
All these things to juggle and I've been playing Brawl Stars for a single day. If it's anything like Clash Royale, every few weeks will contain a beautiful epiphany that I'm getting it all wrong, and that the real secret lies elsewhere. I can't wait.
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