Fall Guys is breaking records – but is it really worth the fuss?

Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz

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“I am not having fun!” shouts Melanie Bracewell, an Auckland-based stand-up comedian and TV presenter. 

She grips her Playstation controller so tight she might break it and repeats herself, this time angrier, and louder: “I am not having fun!”

A few weeks ago, when Auckland returned to Level Three lockdown, Bracewell turned her attention to Twitch video game streaming. 

Like almost everyone else, she’s mostly been playing just one game, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. 

Released in February, the online-only battle royale pits 60 competitors against each other, sending cute cartoon jellybeans racing across seemingly simple obstacles in an attempt to cross the finish line first.

Win up to five mini-games in a row and you earn Fall Guys’ ultimate prize, a crown.

Bracewell wants that crown, but is clearly struggling.

In her recent Instagram video, she can be seen leaning forward in her chair, face screwed into a grimace as her character, a white jellybean dressed as a pink flower, is knocked back by giant balls and moving platforms. 

Finally, her jellybean is engulfed by a rising tide of pink slime and drowns.

As the word, “Eliminated!” crosses her screen, Bracewell screams, “I am not having fun!” one last time. 

I know exactly how she feels.

After a weekend spent playing Fall Guys, a game so simple your kids could pick it up and play within seconds, I felt like jumping in a giant slime pit myself.

Yet I can’t stop from going back for more. 

With its chirpy slot machine music, rainbow blast backdrops and basic platformer puzzles, Fall Guys should be easy.

It’s not. Giant windmill blades spin you off platforms. Moving platforms shove you back like a 3D game of Snakes & Ladders. Big bowling balls push you over, leaving your jellybean flailing on the ground as others scurry past you. 

I’m not a shouter, but I found myself yelling at the screen, angry at others who pulled me back or got in my way, happy if I got one of my favoured levels to compete in, and excited if I managed to complete a near perfect run. 

Despite all the frustration, every time I was eliminated, I hit the ‘X’ button, and, just like Bracewell, returned for more. 

My chosen character was dressed up as a wolf, but my results could only be called sheepish. 

Despite two days of solid play, a crown eluded me. 

It’s not just local comics showing off their new-found passion for the frustration and elation that Fall Guys can bring. 

Manchester City footballer Sergio Aguero is one of the millions of players who helped Fall Guys pass Fortnite on the Twitch streaming charts recently.

YouTube streamers Ninja, PewDiePie and TimTheTatMan are big fans, as is Formula 1 driver Lando Norris.

When Neil Druckman, the creator of the year’s biggest and best video game The Last of Us: Part II, tweeted his love for Fall Guys over the weekend, his followers expressed instant disbelief at his claim that he’d won four crowns in a row.

All that fandom has helped Fall Guys break records. It has sold seven million copies on Steam, topped Fortnite as the most streamed game on the platform, and Playstation recently announced it had become the most downloaded Playstation Plus game in the console’s history. 

They’re the games Playstation gives away for free every month, for a small subscription fee. 

Clearly, people like free stuff. Fall Guys came out way back in February, but its popularity didn’t cross into capturing the cultural zeitgeist until it emerged on Playstation Plus earlier this month.

All those Twitch streams, Instagram videos and tweets would have helped too.

But there’s another reason for Fall Guys’ sudden burst of popularity, and it has everything to do with Covid-19. With much of the world still in various stages of lockdown, as social distancing continues, mask wearing is enforced, and stay-at-home orders are threatened, going crazy in a cartoon world seems suddenly appealing.

For me, dressed as a miniature wolf and trying to squeeze through a narrow doorway along with 60 others, it might be the closest I’ve come to a moshpit since that first lockdown was enforced back in March. 

So it’s likely Fall Guys frenzy is here to stay.  Creators Mediatonic, a London-based game studio, seem to have sorted out the early server wobbles. I experienced only a short delay once during a weekend of solid gaming. 

Despite all the frustrations with the actual gameplay, I enjoyed every second of it, and loved the fact my kids could play along with me. They’re too young for Fortnite, but Fall Guys is fantastic family-friendly fun.

Next month, Mediatonic releases the game’s second season. It includes a medieval theme and new initiatives, like blocks and planks that can be moved around by jellybeans.

I hope I’ve won at least one crown by then. Otherwise I might end up like Bracewell, screaming, “I am not having fun!” at the screen every time my wolf gets swallowed by slime.

 

Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz has 20 years experience writing about New Zealand's technology and entertainment industries. He lives in Auckland.

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