Have you been looking for a good online multiplayer game that’s accessible to anyone who can use a joystick and three buttons? Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is that game. Imagine the minigame zaniness of Mario Party combined with the simple, squishy controls of Gang Beasts, then remixed to deliver the kind of fun that won’t have you screaming in sheer anger at your friends. (Meaning, much better than Mario Party.)
The biggest catch, as those comparisons hint at, is Fall Guys‘ weakness as a solo game. Every match you’ll play in the game’s launch version is a battle against up to 59 online strangers, and the same design elements that make this a fun game with friends will leave you frustrated and furious when it’s just you versus the world.
Fall Guys is a must-play with friends in your online party, a more tiring slog when played alone, and a party game that currently lacks any form of local-multiplayer functionality. If that sales pitch hasn’t lost you, read on.
Tails, balls, and whacks
Each Fall Guys session takes place over five rounds of elimination contests, whittling the fray down from 60 competitors to a single winner. In every round, you control a slow, bean-shaped “fall guy,” likely named after its floppy balance issues. You’ll run and jump through obstacle courses, between swinging pendulums and platforms, and across soccer-like arenas, and anything less than a smooth landing will see your colorful, squeaky character topple over, get up, and try again.
The randomly selected minigames break down into a few categories. In races, you run as part of a pack of dozens of critters to reach a finish line, and each of the race types has a different notable obstacle. One of them has a series of walls, and the mob has to figure out which ones break open and which are too firm to pass through. Another one has a Last Crusade-style array of fake ground tiles, which break apart at the slightest touch, so you and other competitors must figure out the actual solid walking path to the finish line (though you can usually start over if you fall through a false tile). Standard-issue obstacle courses come with their own wacky-physics objects (swinging hammers, massive propellers) that can whack your character out of the running—or, with precise timing, forward to success.
“Tail” contests revolve around seeing who has a glowing tail on their butt by the end of a match’s timer, and if you don’t have one, you can use a “grab” button to swipe one off someone else. A few contests revolve around massive soccer balls, and these often split remaining players into teams to either play a straightforward soccer match—shoving massive balls with their tiny bodies into opposing goals—or to push and control a series of balls into their own colored zone before time runs out.
The fun of each of these is about the game’s gooey-collision physics playing nicely with what appears to be solid in-game netcode. Sometimes, roughly 20 players will try to squish or bounce through the same narrow passageway, and while the resulting fray can range from hilarious to frustrating, you can’t blame it on anything but fellow players’ bedlam. Without that execution, you might write Fall Guys off as a battle royale cash-in, but instead, this has a seriously delightful, goofy feeling—arguably more like Super Mario Maker 2‘s online-versus modes, without the atrocious lag.
PS4 vs. PC
On PlayStation 4, Fall Guys is the summer’s biggest no-brainer. It’s a PlayStation Plus giveaway for the month of August, and on that platform, it requires PS Plus to work (since it’s online-only). So if you and your friends use that console and have any interest, your group should cash in any remaining PS Plus trials or vouchers to claim the game before month’s end.
The PC side of things is a slightly hairier proposition, given that there’s a minimum $20 entry cost—and I’ve recently complained about retail-priced games that include obvious free-to-play hooks. Fall Guys smothers its interface with reminders that you can pay real money to change your blobby character’s “completely optional” cosmetics, and in this game’s case, the combination of impressive outfit designs and massive crowds of fellow players means you’re always getting slapped with the potential FOMO of not having a cool outfit.
In good news, you can’t pay for the game’s “season pass” of earnable outfits. The season pass offers a solid range of silly outfit options, along with enough in-game currency to buy custom outfits from a store’s rotating selection of outfits, pants, colors, and tattoo-like patterns. Importantly, on all platforms, certain cosmetics can only be purchased by getting first place in any 60-strong competition round, which gives winning players a single “crown” of currency. (Right now, rare outfit pieces cost up to five crowns a pop.)
As such, on PC, you’re essentially prebuying a F2P game’s season-pass content in perpetuity, instead of jumping in for free and then later deciding whether to buy into that stuff. The game in question has to be good enough for me to recommend such an option, especially when it prods players to possibly open their wallets and join the outfit-purchase frenzy. When played with a group of friends, Fall Guys exceeds that threshold.
It’s dangerous to Fall alone
When you party with up to three other friends, you’ll matchmake into the same 60-strong session, and everyone in your party will be marked by a small icon. That means you can either leave them alone or inflict friendly hazing. Once anyone in the party is knocked out of a round, they can either hang around and spectate, or they can quit and play a separate session by themselves. I heartily recommend that friends stick together whenever possible, even if that means your entire party force-quits because someone loses in the first round. I recommend this because the game’s lengthy rounds include ample opportunities for get-pumped banter and holy-cow shrieks of delight or frustration.
I haven’t had this much fun with friends in an online game in all of 2020, so long as everyone was connected with mics (usually via a third-party app like Discord). Fall Guys is even more fun when the entire group sticks around while a single party member survives into the final round and everyone else spectates and cheers them on. Viewers can each switch camera angles to follow other competitors and offer play-by-play commentary of the ensuing chaos as six to 10 people vie for that lucrative end-of-match crown.
Solo is so-so
The same simply cannot be said for solo play, however. Many of Fall Guys‘ minigames revolve around last-second BS, quite honestly, where a round’s prior two or three minutes are completely meaningless thanks to a random, perfectly timed confluence of factors. I’ve taken to calling this minigame “F*** You: The Video Game” due to how an entire round of “good” play can go sideways thanks to someone sneaking up and stealing a tail or blocking your path to pushing a ball into a goal. Moments like these are tolerable and even delightful when shared among friends. Playing alone—when it’s just you, a mass of silent opponents, and a wacky physics engine—doesn’t make room for healthy, fun reactions.
Hence, I only play Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout when at least one friend is available—and ever since the game’s retail launch, I’ve been fortunate to have friends ping me on a pretty regular basis, asking if I can drop everything I’m doing and rack up a few rounds. I did that so many times this week that, if I’m being frank, writing this review was the only way to not get in trouble with Ars management. I didn’t respond to messages, emails, and calls quickly the past few days, boss, because I was, er, working on this review. And loving it.
Verdict: A must-play if you already subscribe to PlayStation Plus. A hearty party-game recommendation if you can convince online friends to join in. A tough sell for loners or couch co-op players.