You’d think the late summer doldrums that annually plague games would feel worse than usual this year. August is rarely a big month for new videogames anyway, and this year that feeling is compounded by the fact that the current console generation has essentially already ended. After Sony released The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima in June and July, respectively, there really aren’t any major console exclusives left for this generation. With the next PlayStation and Xbox coming out later this year, and nothing unique to grab players’ attention before then, you could be forgiven for thinking we’d entered a fallow period.
Don’t tell that to the nervous little jelly beans in Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. The brand new game is the kind of smash we haven’t seen since Fortnite blew up. It’s single-handedly keeping that new game buzz alive in August
It took only a few days for Fall Guys to hit an auspicious milestone. Mediatonic’s cartoon riff on the battle royale genre came out less than a week ago, but already has over two million players on Steam. At $20 a pop, that’s a massive pile of loot Mediatonic are now sitting on. And that doesn’t include its PlayStation player base; the game launched for free on the Playstation 4 through PlayStation Plus, where it presumably was downloaded by many more players. (Like Netflix, Sony doesn’t typically share numbers for how many games are downloaded through its subscription service.) From total games played to total hours watched on Twitch, Fall Guys is an instant smash by almost all metrics.
It got here without a massive promotional campaign. You probably haven’t seen Fall Guys ads on TV during what currently passes for sports, or found its garishly colored, outlandishly dressed blobs staring back at you from the windows of GameStop as you drive through the strip mall parking lot. It’s a bit like the launch of Rocket League in 2015; it arrived with a lot of positive buzz from game critics, a low price, and as a free download for PlayStation Plus subscribers, and then suddenly was everywhere on game streams, social media, and discussion boards. It’s the power of a good idea that’s been turned into a well-made game so good that it didn’t need a massive promotional budget to catch one.
Still, if you haven’t played Fall Guys yet, or watched it on Twitch or YouTube, you might be wondering: what exactly is this thing, and why is it so popular? Well, let’s dig into it.
PUBG turned the battle royale into a major genre within games, and then Fortnite took it to a mainstream level with a truly shocking degree of popularity. Dozens of other games have since played with the concept, from Call of Duty to Tetris, but few have done something as unique or distinctive with it as Fall Guys. The game is essentially a 3D platformer, although one where dozens of players compete in real time to be the last one standing. Imagine a modern Super Mario 3D game turned into a neon-colored, deathtrap-fueled sport. Your character—a sexless, featureless, bean-shaped blob with arms, legs and a face—runs, dives and jumps through multiple rounds of obstacle courses and minigames alongside up to 59 competitors, with a smaller number of players making it through each round. There are various different minigames that are chosen at random, and every round has a specific number of players that will move on to the next. The final round will pit whatever survivors are left against each other, with only one possible winner.
The various different minigames in Fall Guys are broken up into four basic types. The first and most common one is racing. It’s pretty basic: all players compete to see who can get to the end of the course and cross the finish line first.
There’s also a suite of survival games. Perhaps you’re on a platform and have to avoid getting knocked off, or wind up playing a game of memory that leads to instant death if you don’t stand on the right tile.
There’s also a series of team games, where you’re randomly divvied up into squads and have to cooperate with your random partners to avoid elimination. The losing team (or, in games with three teams, least successful of the three) will get the can at the end.
Finally, you’ll have to make it through one of three different final rounds if you make it far enough. Only one player can win any of these rounds, and that person wins the entire game.
Okay, so it’s not that substantial of a prize. If you emerge the victor from the 60-bean field, you’ll win a Crown that can be traded in for new cosmetic items. There’s also a second currency, Kudos, which is easier to earn—basically you’ll pull some of these in every time you play, making more the deeper you make it into a game. If you don’t care about character customization, these rewards won’t mean much to you. Given how similar every character looks at first, though, it does feel like a legitimate reward to be able to personalize them. The real value in winning, of course, is the simple satisfaction of victory. Yes, it feels good to know you somehow outsmarted and outplayed almost five dozen strangers.
One reason Fall Guys has hooked players so deeply—and why it’s so much fun to watch others play it—is that it’s very hard to guess who will win. It’s not even easy to tell if somebody is doing well in many of the minigames. There’s a popular video floating Twitter that perfectly sums up how it can feel to play Fall Guys. The player starts off in the middle of the pack, before eventually breaking away about halfway through. They’re part of a small group of players well ahead of the rest. Gradually they all get slowed down or knocked off by obstacles, with only two left approaching the finish line. Suddenly the other character grabs the player and throws them off the runway, eliminating them just a few steps before the finish line.
Basically, Fall Guys can be vicious. It can be one of the cruelest games you’ve ever played. You can be poised to win a round from start right up to the finish, only to shockingly get bumped from contention by a last-second surprise. It takes that element of risk and unpredictability from other forms of racing—from horse to car to track and field—and amplifies it into a candy-colored form of trolling online strangers. You can’t take anything for granted in Fall Guys, which gives it a strong sense of tension.
Most games, from first to final round, will wrap up in under 20 minutes. It’s not a major time commitment, for either the player or anybody who might be watching. It’s similar to Fortnite’s battle royale mode in that way; that smash kind of proved that 20 minutes is the sweet spot for games like this, and Fall Guys regularly brings it in under that time limit.
I’m not saying this to brag, but to prove that experience and expertise isn’t that crucial, at least not during these early days. I won my very first round of Fall Guys. I haven’t won since. I might never win again. Either way it was clearly all downhill for me after that first round. But if you can get a quick handle on the very basic control scheme—literally all you can do is run, jump and grab onto things—there’s nothing keeping you from winning your first time out. Well, nothing beyond the 59 other players, and the often capricious nature of the game itself.
If you’ve just been mainlining the hell out of Fall Guys all week and are already getting sick of it, don’t worry: more is on the way. Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital will be keeping the content pipeline chugging along, with regular additions of cosmetic items, and the promise of new levels, minigames and other features. To keep a community this strong, and actually help it grow, it’s important to keep putting out new content, and Fall Guys is no exception.
Right now you can only play Fall Guys on PC or the PlayStation 4. It makes perfect sense for the Switch, and would no doubt be a smash on the Xbox One, as well. Given the nature of the industry, and how third-party games are almost never actually exclusive to any one platform, you can probably expect the game to eventually land elsewhere. Mediatonic itself admits to wanting to bring the game to other systems on its own website. So if you’re a Switch-only player or an Xbox loyalist struggling with FOMO, take at least a little bit of solace in the fact that you might get a crack at Fall Guys in the future.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.