The multiplayer battle arena genre can be fairly intimidating to the casual gamer; long matches, heated competition and lets face it, communities that can be flat out toxic at times. Smashmuck Champions attempts to cut away the hardcore barriers to focus on a fast and fun brawler. Does developer Kiz Studios succeed in this noble cause? Well, sort of…
The four different game types are a nice change of pace. Plunderball, a capture the flag style mode is some face paced fun, matches last about 5 minutes which is a huge win when compared to the time demands of the genre heavyweights. Conquest pits teams of 5 against each other to capture 5 control points. Siege is the traditional MOBA game type with waves of minions spawning and the goal to destroy the opposing teams turrets and base. Nice little twist is the introduction of the bomb, spawning periodically in the center of the map. Players can pick up and use the bomb to inflict massive damage on the opposing structures. Maps are small making for a quick run to where the action is.
Destroyer, the most unique of the game type, revolves around two big ass robots slowly lumbering towards each other and stomping what ever crosses their paths. Teams duke it out to gather crystals that can power up and heal your destroyer. Sounds fun in theory but fell a little short for me. The pacing is just too slow and the match tends to drag at times. If your team falls a little behind on the crystal picks ups early on you are pretty much done, basically just waiting to lose so you can start the next game.
To be fair I did only get to play one game of 3v3 Plunderball with actual people. The player base just isn’t there. Granted Smashmuck has just recently entered open beta so it does have a chance to build that community. At the moment though, there are times when literately only one game can be going on at a time because there aren’t enough players to get a second. Considering how vital an active community is to any pvp focused game, hopefully as development progresses they can draw in some fresh meat.
Matches, aside from being short, are fairly fast paced. Champs don’t level up and no in match gear to buy, so no need to dick around farming creeps just to finish your build. Jump right in an start kicking ass. Power ups to restore health and energy are scattered around the map and all modes except Plunderball have destroyable health stations located near each teams starting platform. Death doesn’t hurt too bad with the quick respawn timer, and since you’re not mindlessly grinding gold or XP the first half of a match you can jump right back in with no penalty.
Each champion only has 3 active skills which are ready to use right from the start and no need to level them up. That keeps things nice and simple, in theory. The controls feel extremely clunky at first which really drags down the over all potential. Movement uses the WASD keys, with 1, 2 and 3 or the mouse wheel switching between skills. Left click to use a basic attack and right click to use your selected skill. It just doesn’t feel smooth when you’re in the thick of battle and you’re fumbling around needing to motions to use the skill you need at that moment. There is an auto cast option of sorts but it doesn’t really do much to speed things up when you’re trying to react to a specific situation. I think the standard mouse click to move and number keys to use a skill would work much better.
There are items and buffs to equip pre match that can change up a champion’s stats but the implementation just falls flat. For one it’s just way too convoluted for a game that seems to target the less elite crowd. There’s a coach level which you increase by gaining XP from matches. Higher coach levels allow you to equip a badge to your champ which gives it a per game buff. Coach level also unlocks more slots for your training routines which is where you equip workouts that give general buffs depending on the play style you want. Then there’s the weapons for each champ which also level up and gain better stats. Kiz Studios really could have done without that many customization options or at the very least make the whole thing more easily accessible and clear up how the hell each of those options really effects your game. I’m not to thrilled with these upgrades because of the advantages they give a player as well. These type of games are all about skill of the individual player and each match is a clean slate. Giving too many persistent stat increases skews the balance in favor of the guy has accumulated more toys.
Since Smashmuck is a free to play, there is of course an item shop and you can’t really fault Kiz for that. Gotta pay the rent some how. They may have gone a little too far though. There’s the typical fare of champions and skins to unlock, workouts, badges and weapons as I’ve mentioned, then there’s avatars, titles, and crafting kits. Sure some of it is purely cosmetic and anything that does effect gameplay can be bought with in game currency. Still, it just feels like too much. Badges and weapons are a little touchy in my opinion as well since they can be purchased with real money. It may turn out the advantages are small enough to not make that much of a difference which won’t really be clear until there is a larger player base.
I said there is crafting, It’s just completely pointless though. You can get the occasional random components at the end of a match or from completing daily achievements. Or just buy a crafting bundle from the cash shop. Use the low end components to build 2nd tier components, and use those to craft champions, weapons or badges. The final result is random though which makes it impossible to work towards a specific item. Having crafting components in the cash shop really turns it in to a lottery where you’re at the mercy of the gods of random number generation.
There’s a few missteps in the execution and may not be as casual friendly as the game is represented. Don’t get me wrong though, Smashmuck is some good old action packed face stomping fun. That may outweigh the cons as long as an active community gets behind the game. Sure wont be knocking League of Legends off it’s perch at the top. The game is still in beta and Kiz Studios seems very open and responsive to player feedback. Smashmuck Champions really does have some great potential. With a little more polish and streamlining it may be able to hold its own. Even in its current state it’s at least worth a try.