For gamers of a certain vintage, the mere mention of the late 1980s and early 1990s will evoke fond memories of the age of side-scrolling shooters, ranging from the sublime Contra to a whole host of execrable movie tie-ins. Some of the original movies themselves will loom just as large as early cultural icons, including Die Hard, The Terminator, RoboCop and many more.
Broforce, an indie 2D side-scrolling run and gun title developed by Free Lives, attempts to combine these twin influences in a game that celebrates the guts, glory and testosterone of the classic American action movie in a completely over the top style. The player takes control of a succession of characters across levels set primarily in south-east Asia in an attempt to kill a devil boss, proudly raise an American flag and get safely onto the last chopper out of Saigon. The base gameplay is reminiscint of Contra or Metal Slug but Free Lives take the core mechanics of these games and run with them.
Broforce’s signature feature is its burgeoning cast of characters, or ‘bros’ as they are known in the game’s parlance. Each of the game’s thirty bros are lifted directly from classic 80s and 90s TV and action movies and their names are given a suitably ridiculous twist; think Rambro, Brobocop and even Double Bro Seven. Each is easily recognisable not only from the comedy nomenclature but also from the gorgeous pixel art of their portraits. Half the fun of the game is unlocking new bros and discovering their abilities
"For those who ain't got time to bleed" – Tango Fiesta reviewed
Each bro has access to a main weapon and a limited use special power, usually taken directly from the source material that inspired them. These vary hugely in power: the aforementioned Rambro must make do with a lowly machine gun and grenades, while Arnie pastiche the Brominator wields a minigun that’s so powerful the recoil pushes him backwards whilst he also has the ability to turn invisible for a limited period. Despite this disparity in lethality, all are great fun to play and immensely silly in their own way.
Broforce goes out of its way to appear brash and macho but underneath its ostensibly meat-headed facade is a surprisingly clever and complex 2D shooter. The game’s destructible scenery first seems to be merely an extension of its over-the-top aesthetic but actually adds immense tactical depth to gameplay. It actively encourages the player to experiment with multiple approaches to different areas, whether that’s bypassing a group of tough enemies by blasting a safe passageway through a wall or attempting to line up the perfect chain reaction of explosions to deal with deadlier foes.
The destructible environments also help to make virtually all of Broforce’s vast number of bros viable in gameplay. This is important, because the game automatically swaps out your current bro for another character at random each time you rescue a prisoner and earn an extra life. Initially this can be irritating, forcing a weaker bro on the player at inopportune moments but the rationale behind the decision quickly becomes apparent. Constantly juggling different characters keeps gameplay fresh and varied and adapting to unanticipated situations and improvising your way out of apparently impossible situations is hugely satisfying.
If there’s one area that Broforce can be faulted it is the game’s steep difficulty curve. The difficulty of each level is represented by a threat colour, with each shade corresponding to a different degree of challenge. The initial amber and red-coded levels are gentle enough but things become considerably tougher at black difficulty level and only escalate from there. Thankfully, levels are short and Broforce’s gameplay loop is strong enough that dying and repeatedly playing a section until you get it right rarely feels frustrating. Add to that the ability to play locally or online with up to four players and Broforce is rarely less than a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The extent to which Broforce’s ludicrously silly, testosterone-drenched stylings appeal will likely be the determining factor for most people in choosing to take a chance on the game. To miss out on it for this reason would be a real shame though; beneath its macho posturing is a fine game, easily one of the best 2D shooters of the last few years.