It’s extremely difficult to create a unique piece of art in an industry that’s awash with same-y titles, watered down sequels and plain ol’ rip-offs, so it’s important for gamers to not let rare jewels slip through the cracks. Turtle Sandbox’s Cannon Brawl is just such a jewel.
What initially appeared to be a Worms-esque clone in the game’s official trailer, turned out to be something so much more.
The game opens with one of the most cartoon-y title screens you’ll come across outside of things like Scribblenauts and leads us straight into the campaign with a sense of urgency you’ll come to associate with Cannon Brawl. “Imagine a kingdom,” the game says. “Now imagine…a conflict!” From here the main plot point is laid out in as simplistic way as possible, leaving no ambiguity between who the bad guys are and whose side you’re on.
You play as the king’s daughter, an airship pilot, who must defeat her evil Uncle (the “U” is capitalized for some reason) before he conquers your kingdom. The story is told in a dry, humorous fashion that typifies the general feel of the game. The king’s jealous brother is stampeding through the realm, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun, right?
If you were to describe the game in a succinct way, the aforementioned Worms franchise is one that can’t be avoided. But it also contains elements of real-time strategy and tactical battle gaming, which goes to show how you can take an interesting idea and spin it entirely on its head to create something new.
The first thing to notice when loading up the game is that there is no mouse cursor. From a 21st Century PC gaming perspective, this seems a rather odd choice for something that requires rapid response times. However, those concerns were put to rest when I loaded up the tutorial level of the campaign.
Essentially you control the game using the keyboard, by manoeuvring your airship around the screen from point-to-point, selecting defence towers and attack artillery before placing them in their desired locations. What’s immediately noticeable is how quick and smooth the airship darts around the screen, eliminating the need for any mouse control.
Cannon Brawl supports control pads as well. I don’t have one on hand, so I made do with the keyboard, assuming controls for a game pad would have similar mechanics.
The object of each level is to defeat your opponent’s castle, situated on the far side of the map. While this is where the Worms influence can be drawn from, it pretty much ends here. Really, it’s the tactical gameplay style and strategic thinking where Cannon Brawl really comes into its own.
As you race against the enemy, you need to expand your territory and set up mine camps to collect gold (which you need to pay for construction and erect attack and shield towers), ensuring the other player doesn’t get the drop on you.
While the main objective is to defeat the enemy castle, more thought is required when going into battle as you switch between offensive and defensive tactics. As you build and defend, so does your opponent, and as you can imagine, the difficulty curve becomes more challenging and complex (without being convoluted) as the game progresses.
You’ll find yourself in a cartoon-y game of chess as you fight to keep your defences up, rather than leaving your “pieces” vulnerable, all the while keeping your eye on what the enemy is up to. However, this soon becomes difficult to do. In fact, even on earlier levels, there is so much going on that you’ll sometimes find yourself making ad-hoc decisions on the fly.
The above creates the core of the game’s high-octane veneer and keeps players in a rather ongoing state of urgency. This might sound like it could put you at a disadvantage, but it’s an essential mechanic that requires action to be taken quickly. A poorly-angled defence shield will leave your other buildings exposed or a misjudged projectile may do nothing other than take a chunk out of the land. Planning becomes everything the more you have to do.
As the game progresses, power-ups and additional buildings get added to increase choice and the tension goes up. And it does all of this without losing the sense of fun that is Cannon Brawl to a tee.
There’s also a player vs. computer mode, which works the same way as the campaign, only without the story. Therein, you’re pitted against the AI in a head-on battle. Said option is not entirely different to the main story mode, but it’s good for a quick play.
For anyone who’s wondering, yes there is a multiplayer mode (frankly it would be criminal for a game like this to not include it), but I was unable to test it out as searching for matches revealed there to be only around five people online, including myself. This is more than likely something that will come about once the game gains more traction via word of mouth.
Overall, Cannon Brawl is a bright and colourful little indie title. It downplays graphical prowess in favour of a more fun gameplay environment. And because it’s not hardware intensive, most low-end systems will be able to play with relative ease. Sometimes it can be a bit of gamble throwing money at indie games that are still in early development, but at $14.99 (£10.99), Cannon Brawl is a fantastically entertaining tactical battle game that comes complete with gratifying gameplay and a burst of character the likes of which I haven’t seen since 2D Boy’s World Of Goo.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
Cannon Brawl is an intriguing look at how the RTS genre can be done in fresh, exciting ways. It's sure to be a popular title for the strategy crowd.