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Cannon Brawl Review

8

Artillery based strategy games have a long history in gaming,  most famously represented by the classic Worms series. These games task players with deploying an arsenal of long-ranged weapons to accurately pick off the opponent’s team, often blasting through the terrain to do so. Cannon Brawl follows in this tradition, but has one major difference: Unlike most such games, the action unfolds in real time, creating a fast-paced, hectic game of split-second decisions and frantic attacks in which having the right strategy matters more than having the ability to bulls-eye an enemy from across the map.   

Each stage in Cannon Brawl starts with the player in control of an airship and a castle. The castle is your construction center, building the weapons and defenses you’ll need to reach and destroy the enemy. The airship serves as the commander, placing and controlling  the buildings created by your castle. The objective is simple: use the various available weapons to break through the enemy’s defenses and destroy their castle, winning the match. Of course, it’s not as simple as just dropping a cannon next to the target and  blasting away. You can only deploy new buildings in your own territory, and to expand that territory, you’ll need to  build fragile, easily destroyed hot air balloons. These balloons, and all the other buildings on offer, cost money, and money can only be gained by building mining camps on the gold deposits found throughout the map.

All these considerations combine to create a game flow that should be familiar to any Real-Time-Strategy player. In the early game, both players scramble for territory and resources, until their expansion inevitably brings them into contact with each other. Then it’s a battle to secure the most favorable position  and steadily drive back the enemy until you can deliver the deathblow to their castle. This is where the meat of the game takes place. Rapid decision making and response are the key skills here, as you’ll have to quickly choose where to allocate your resources: Do you build a few more balloons in order to gain access to a piece of valuable high ground, or do you instead focus on building up your offensive strength with extra cannons? Should you adopt a defensive strategy and focus on advancing one step at a time, or snipe the enemy castle from afar to bring a quick end to the match? It’s not the deepest or most strategic game out there, but Cannon Brawl throws decisions at you at an impressive speed, and will definitely keep players on their toes in it’s harder levels. It also offers far shorter matches than most strategy games, with most games lasting only 5-10 minutes, so busy players can get a burst of RTS action without having to devote their whole day to it.

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Sadly, Cannon Brawl’s strengths in the strategy department aren’t matched when it comes to artillery control. The best games in the genre make landing the perfect shot a strategic feat in itself, requiring a grasp of wind speed, weapon weight, gravity, and a range of other factors. In Cannon Brawl, all the weapons feel the same, the wind is never an issue, and firing often feels like a rote experience, a distraction from the real challenge of deploying your cannons in the most strategic way possible. Some players, of course, will see this as a good thing, as it means games hinge more on strategy than on hand eye coordination, but it would have been nice to have the option of a more complex aiming challenge.

While the weapons may all feel the same to fire, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of strategic variety on offer. Starting with the basic cannon, the campaign steadily introduces more and more options until you have over a dozen different weapons to choose from. Some are straightforward, like the long ranged but slow-charging laser,  or the devastating but inaccurate cluster missile, while others fill a more subtle support role: shields that block enemy attacks, drills that destroy terrain, freeze rays that disable enemy buildings, and more all become available as you progress through the game. Each building has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you can only bring a limited selection into each battle, so there’s an endless variety of different ways to tackle its level. All these options might seem overwhelming, but they’re introduced one a time over the course of the campaign, and all fit within a simple, accessible set of mechanics that even the newest player should be able to grasp fairly quickly.

With so many different buildings, it was probably inevitable that they wouldn’t all be particularly well balanced. While the direct attack options are all roughly on par, many of the support buildings are either highly situational or just plain weak. Given the sharply limited number of different buildings you can take into battle with you, this means that some of the more interesting but less generally useful buildings may never get used at all as you rely on a handful of more powerful choices.

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Fortunately, the basic campaign is fairly easy, so you’ll be free to explore the more unusual options without having to worry about being slaughtered by the AI. More advanced players won’t have to worry about lacking a challenge though, as beating the campaign unlocks “nightmare mode”, featuring harder battles against more skilled opponents. This is where your skills will really be put to the test, and you’ll need a firm grasp of the game’s mechanics in order to succeed. The campaign has is interesting and varied, with the mixture of terrain and enemy buildings providing a different strategic challenge in each level. Its only real flaw is that it is regrettably short: You can finish normal mode in a few hours and even nightmare mode won’t take more than a day or two. Even if the campaign doesn’t last long though, the free play and multiplayer modes should give Cannon Brawl plenty of replay-ability.

Graphically, the game adopts a colorful, cartoonish style common to the genre, which helps to keep the mood light in a game that might otherwise become rather tense. The different buildings have large, distinct sprites, which makes it easy to grasp the strategic situation at a glance, though there a few (notably the similar-looking laser and shield towers) that can be confused if you aren’t paying enough attention. The terrain is crisp and clear, and vanishes in a satisfying way when blasted apart with your weapons, though it would be nice to see a little more variety. You’ll be seeing a lot of grassland and ice in Cannon Brawl, which begins to feel stale after a while.

The cartoonish graphics are matched by a cartoonish soundtrack, composed mostly of pleasant sounding trumpets. It’s passable music and compliments the action well enough, but it really isn’t very interesting or memorable, and fades quickly into the background. Weapon sounds are similarly unremarkable and feel a little weak, but not enough to seriously detract from the experience.

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Overall, Cannon  Brawl is a great choice if you’re looking for an accessible, fast paced strategy game. It’s straightforward enough for casual players, but offers plenty of different choices for dedicated players to explore. While its lackluster cannon controls mean it isn’t a replacement for more traditional artillery games like Worms, its more developed strategic elements make it a worthy and innovative entry in it’s genre.

 

Cannon Brawl was played on Xbox One.



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