August 1, 2018 // 3 p.m.
Platform(s): PC (Windows)
Release: Out now (Early Access)
Banzai Royale isn't shy about trying to associate itself with the battle royale genre, but at this stage it couldn't be further from accurate.
If anything, by suggesting that it falls into the ever-growing collection of battle royale games, developer Brimstone is doing the game a disservice.
Banzai Royale is actually more reminiscent of Arrowhead Game Studio's The Showdown Effect, in that each of the game's two minute rounds devolves into a series of highly skilled duels, with the last one alive winning the round, although not necessarily the game.
Players get a minute to grab a gun and skirmish with opponents before a danger circle starts to close in on a certain point on the map, and players are then forced together in a fight to the death. Sure, this may sound like the premise of a battle royale title, but with only 12 players and a single deathmatch-sized map available in the initial Early Access launch, the focus is less on survival and more on careful and intricate brawling with enemies.
The running skirmishes are the strength of the game. The map is a densely packed Japanese market district filled with stores, alleyways, and a parking zone. You can't see enemies that you don't have line of sight to, so there's a lot of scope for outmanoeuvring your opponents or just straight up ducking away into the labyrinthine map, providing you don't run into anyone else on the way out. Luck feels like a very small part of each fight; aggression, skill, and positioning are far more important to win fights.
Sure, sometimes someone will hit you in the back with an explosive crossbow or a flare gun, but sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear shoots you from across the map while you're fighting someone else.
Weapons in the game are varied and hit several different marks. There's an Armalite, a shotgun, super shotgun, laser blaster, desert eagle, the aforementioned explosive crossbow and flare gun, a katana, meat cleaver, and ninja throwing star gun — a godless killing machine that slings throwing stars into the arena, bouncing them off of walls and objects, heavily damaging everything in their path, whether that's the enemy or the player character.
Many of the weapons in the game have a ridiculous secondary purpose, too. The flare gun sets players aflame until they dodge-roll, which means that if someone is set aflame after using up their stamina, they're unable to roll and put out the fire. A cleaver can cut people up into edible chunks, while the crossbow explodes after sticking in an object, survivable only if you're in the invincible dodge-roll state when it goes off. If not, the player quickly becomes chunks of player.
Banzai Royale still has a way to go: 12 players is a workable player count, but there are plans to expand it, and the single map is great now, but more maps would create a greater variance for the combat, and that's essential since with two minute rounds you can only really play for an hour or so before you've played out one map.
For now, though, the core at the heart of Banzai Royale makes me eager to see what else is added. The customisation options already allow me to create my own unique salaryman to bring the hurt, but I'm excited to see what comes from new weapons and new maps. The dream would be environmental hazards to interact with, in addition to more comedy weapons, but I'd settle for more of what we have here: tightly designed and interesting arenas with weapons that enable a variety of playstyles, turning each fight into an asymmetrical fight with a multiple disciplines for people to excel in.
Over the last couple of days, I've been bested, but I've also in turn bested other people with melee weapons, handguns, shotguns, the crossbow, and - a personal favourite - a railgun that takes a few seconds to charge but insta-kills enemies if they don't get out of the way fast enough. Many games like this suffer from weapons that are exceptionally powerful, however it feels like you can get equally as trashed here with just about any pickup, dominating if your positioning is right and your aim true.
For a game that's under the £5 mark, this one is a no-brainer.
Finally, one critical problem for the nascent multiplayer shooter: don't start the game up for the first time with headphones on. The battle cry of 'BANZAI ROYALE!' that accompanies the start of the game was louder than a bomb in my ear and made me yell in surprise and pain. You've been warned.