Far too often we find ourselves labelling games as “dumb”, which is typically designated for twitch action games with heaps of violence and tons of explosions. By that definition, Broforce is a “dumb” game. But there’s an endearing quality in how Broforce revels in its stupidity, stupidity that happens to sit on top of a surprisingly sophisticated 2D Contra clone.
After wading your way through Broforce’s unapologetic patriotism, you’d think that a more appropriate title for the game would be Team America: World Police, however Matt Stone and Trey Parker called dibs on that one first. Broforce’s red-white-and-blue goofiness sends you and your team of Bros globetrotting around a neat 3D polygonal representation of the world map, claiming their victories against terrorists and aliens by marking American Flags on top of piles of rubble and dead bodies.
But while Broforce has its fair share of cartoonish xenophobia, the game’s true celebration of America lies in its cast of Bros. As you make your way through each level, you’ll release caged prisoners who eventually reveal a pleasant surprise. Expect to practically trip over almost any number of American action hero references within the past 30 years: Rambo, Terminator, Blade, Kill Bill, The Matrix, Men in Black, Conan The Barbarian, James Bond (okay, not exactly American), the list goes on. The PS4 version carries over the most recent additions to the Bro-cast, offering over 30 playable characters.
A big part of Broforce’s charm is how it’s adapted all of these heroes and heroines into this 2D pixel art action game (yes, there are female Bros too). Each character introduction drops with a gnarly guitar solo, showing off their “roided out” illustrations that are almost as charmingly obnoxious as the game’s efforts to force the word “bro” into every name. It’s a shame, though, that there’s nowhere else to read names such as Indiana Brones and Brobocop outside of these moments. Comparisons to Super Time Force is only appropriate as Broforce’s incessant references to American pop culture draw you into exploring how each character plays.
Much like Super Time Force, character abilities are minimal and straight forward. Each can execute a primary attack – the vast majority of which use an assortment of unique fire arms – and a consumable special ability. Every adaptation is impressively distinct with everything from the Noisy Cricket from Men in Black to the ability to slow down time from Timecop. Though what separates Broforce from other 2D action gamesis its randomisation that fuels the game’s rapid progression system.
Every single Bro that you save will move you closer and closer to unlocking a new character. Doing this also, smartly, awards you lives – and you’ll need them. Broforce preserves its Contra roots by mercilessly allowing only one hit before death. But the way in which Broforce manages awarding lives is far more fundamental than simply gifting you with a second wind. Release a Bro, and your current character will be replaced with a random hero, the same goes for the hero that appears after you respawn. The character-swapping cycle in Broforce adds a unique quality to the game’s pacing, dropping different characters often within seconds apart from one another and keeping you on your toes. As a whole, this sustains a high level of spontaneity that is easily Broforce’s biggest strength.
That spontaneity also presents itself well within the game’s destructible environments. I’ll say this: Broforce hosts the most full-bodied dynamic environmental destruction I’ve ever seen in a 2D game. Literally every tile on screen can be destroyed with the exception of the metal tiles that are reserved for the checkpoints in each stage. For an action game, this opens up a seemingly infinite amount of options that you can use to approach almost any given situation. Are there two Bruisers firing miniguns on the floor above you? Get rid of it and watch them fall to their deaths. Is there a mine field that might prove to be too risky to jump across? Burrow your way underground and past it Terreria style.
This level of destructibility also provies interesting hazards and facilitates the frequent possibility of explosive chain reactions. You’ll notice that some of the levels’ structures are built on top of foundation that can be knocked down. You may also find yourself crushed by denser blocks that fall on your head if you’re not careful. All of these finer details can easily be appreciated once you get past the constant eruptions of dynamite-strapped enemies, explosive canisters, and fully built gas lines that can level a quarter of the geometry on screen. In the beginning, all of this provides equal opportunity demolition for both you and the increasingly difficult enemies that you face. That is until you battle your way to the later stages of the game.
Broforce’s one-hit-kill penalty serves up a fair challenge at first, but the later quarter of the game kicks in a dramatic difficulty spike that occasionally seems unfair which is mainly thanks to the brutally overwhelming boss fights. In a few of the ones I defeated, I found myself circumventing the game’s destructibility and ultimately doing what felt like “cheesing” my way to victory by carving out tunnels and shooting them in the ass. Others awarded me with a “Mission Complete”, leaving me completely clueless as to how I managed to defeat the boss after several failed attempts. Though strangely enough, like many Japanese action games, the final boss is a bit more measured with odds that aren’t entirely stacked against you.
Despite the dramatic difficulty spikes, the campaign takes anywhere between five to seven hours to complete depending on your skill level. Broforce does come with some side content and multiplayer, however none of it seems to work as intended. On occasion, you’ll come across “Covert Ops”, side missions that unlock special pick ups that can be found in the main game. Unfortunately, in my experience, these missions surfaced randomly with only one in one game save, and three on another for no obvious reason. They are, for the very least, fun and challenging once you come across them; the multiplayer, on the other hand, cannot even measure up to those basic qualities.
When playing a full online match with four players, the game almost instantly devolves into a complete incomprehensible mess. Framerate that drops below 30 and 20 frames per second is a common occurrence, but among the worst matches I’ve seen made other players seem as if they were in a completely different game, walking into invisible geometry that any one of us might have destroyed. Even when matches run at an ideal performance, the action on screen is incredibly difficult to read, with trigger happy players blowing shit up and others that walk off screen throwing your view askew. The idea of multiple American heroes blasting their way through destructible environments may be good on paper, but in design and execution, it all fails miserably.
In the end, multiplayer exists as an afterthought in the Broforce package. Developer Free Lives has built a highly entertaining 2D action game nonetheless. The full spectrum of the game’s cast, mixed with character randomisation and fully destructible environments creates a chaotic beauty within Broforce. It is the type of game that’s ripe for replayability, testing out your skills and pushing their limits through the lens of an American action hero.
Broforce's freedom of destruction and tongue-in-cheek xenophobia are its absolute best qualities.