Picture Pong. Picture the game happening in space. Now picture the paddles being humans who can inexplicably fly, who whack the ball back at each other. Finally, picture the goal as a purple crystal that breaks after five hits, surrounded by “minions” (smaller versions of your character that acts as a barrier for the crystal). That’s Ultra Space Battle Brawl in a nutshell.
…Well, sort of. Pong is simplistic and a straight test of skill and reflexes, and while Ultra Space Battle Brawl has that, there’s one big difference that changes everything. There are no barriers blocking each person’s side. That means that when the ball is on the opponent’s half of the screen, you can just zoom over and continue to hit the ball again and again into your opponent’s crystals. It’s definitely fun, but only if you’re willing to go along with the ensuing chaos.
In terms of game mechanics, Ultra Space Battle Brawl is on the simpler end. There’s no real reason to use the Dash button when most of the character sprite is a hitbox, and the ball speed is quite slow most of the time, making trajectory prediction quite easy. There’s no ball curving, and precise angling of the ball is impossible, with your shots going straight or at 45° angles. On one hand, this means that it’s easy to pick up and understand how to play, but it can get boring quickly unless you deliberately go on the offensive to pick up the pace.
Suddenly, whack-a-thons start happening on either side of the ball, like young soccer players who just know how to kick the ball forward. Sooner or later, a ball slips out of the impromptu game of whack-a-mole and destroys several minions, which opens up a chance for players to score hits against the opponent’s crystal. It’s exhilarating to score multiple hits at once by hitting the ball in the right direction so it gets stuck and bounces back and forth in some of the circular crystal stages, or just run straight to the enemy’s crystal and mash Attack as the opponent desperately tries to hit it away to no avail. It was fun in a very chaotic way, and by the end of the session my Player Two and I were grinning at a surprisingly heated match.
Ultra Space Battle Brawl is stylized after a fighting game, with a health bar split into five segments, and every character has their own “Ultra” skill that can turn the tide of battle. It’s essentially a comeback mechanic, as it fills up quicker when one of your minions gets destroyed, or when your crystal is hit. By filling up the whole gauge, your character can unleash their “Ultra” skill, such as creating a doppelganger of themselves, split the ball into two, or make the ball invisible after you hit it. These skills add to the chaos and button mashing, though I did find some skills to be overpowered or underpowered.
The caveat for enjoying this game, of course, is how much you are in the mood to enjoy chaotic fun. There are no footsies, nor can you cancel your dash into an attack. It’s not really that nuanced despite how it emulates fighting games, so wins or losses sometimes feel like the luck of the draw. It’s more a game for spontaneous bursts of fun with friends at your house. I should mention that there’s no Online multiplayer either, meaning that this was most likely the exact intention of the game creators.
There is such a thing as too much chaos though, and the 2v2 option that is available for up to four players is the epitome of this lesson. Now there are two “paddles” on each side, meaning even more meaningless back-and-forths between players, and when all four players activate their Ultras at the same time, all bets are off. Combining Ultras is a cool idea in concept, and I wish the developers did more in this area, but it’s obvious how the game was balanced around 1v1. We tried combining the Invisible Ball and Split Ball Ultras together, but it’s hard to do so when your partner can’t see where the ball is either.
Considering that Ultra Space Battle Brawl only has a simple arcade mode for its single-player offerings, getting the game for fun local multiplayer sessions with friends is definitely the way to go. It’s definitely something you need to be in the right mood for though, as sometimes the chaos sometimes crosses the line into making it feel unfair.
Food for Thought:
1. I really loved the visuals of the game, and how each of the planet “fields” had a different gimmick that was appropriately themed. For example, Saturn has the crystal trailing behind you with rotating minions, meaning that you could strategically dodge opponent shots as well. That stage also ended up being my favorite.
2. I really wish I could tell what the characters say when they lose, but it seems to be in Indonesian.
3. The music in the game is amazing, and changes for “Pinch Mode” like in Street Fighter II. The soundtrack is definitely worth listening to.
Ultra Space Battle Brawl is available on Nintendo Switch via the eShop.