The battle royale genre has become increasingly crowded to the point that for a new one to stand out, it needs to have several things going for it. It needs a strong development team, a plan for the future, and most importantly, it needs a unique idea that separates it from the rest of the pack. Iron Galaxy, the makers of Killer Instinct and Divekick, has put that idea out into the gaming world with Rumbleverse. Its hook is that it’s battle royale, but one entirely without guns, unless those guns are the ones represented by players’ giant muscles. Rumbleverse is about crowning the baddest brawler on the block and the result is one of the most unique and wildly fun battle royales in years.
The premise for Rumbleverse is extremely simple. It’s a battle royale, except everyone is basically a bulked-up brawler. Think of someone like Zangief from Street Fighter and you’ll understand the general idea. Up to 40 players will fire out of a cannon and land in the heart of Grapital City. In order to win, players must combine strikes, various command grabs, and melee weapon shots in order to be the last fighter standing.
The gameplay loop can take a variety of turns, depending on where you land at the start of each game. Confident fighters can land next to another player and go straight at them, using their basic moves to put them down before they can even get started. Those with more long-term strategies can break open boxes and start pocketing their contents, saving recovery items like chicken for down the road.
Similarly, those who hope to be ready for the more chaotic late stages of the game can rummage through boxes for books containing stronger moves. These moves can range from more powerful strikes like the E. Honda-style Sumo Slap or the Young Bucks-esque Superkick to powerful command grabs like the Claudio Castagnoli-like Giant Swing or the Roman Reigns tribute Javelin Spear. Over the course of each game, players can build their Superstar Meter and either grab a foe for an ultra-powerful piledriver, use it for quick health recovery, or save it for a last gasp resurrection after being downed.
The critical thing to know about Rumbleverse is that it uses a more sophisticated rock-paper-scissors approach. Strikes can’t go through blocks, but they can punish missed grabs. Unblockable grabs can grab anyone who’s blocking or who simply isn’t paying attention. Most importantly, the various book-learned moves each have a different rarity/power level and figuring out which has priority over what or which is outright stronger than the other is a fun process in itself.
As much of the aforementioned might imply, no two games of Rumbleverse feel like they’re the same. On top of the battle royale circle changing locations every game, the competition’s tactics frequently change. Some will go more aggressive and look for recovery windows while others will read their opponents and bait out a certain move in order to counter with one of their own. Sometimes, a player will just climb the tallest skyscraper and come off the top of it with the world’s greatest “Macho Man” Randy Savage tribute elbow, KO-ing some poor sucker who just happens to be standing in the wrong spot. Certain surfaces, like abandoned cars, will have bouncy surfaces that allow for a quick jump, but also allow for players to carry their momentum for an even more impactful move. You haven’t chokeslammed someone until you’ve lifted them off the ground, driven them into a pair of bouncy cars, and dropped them an extra 50 feet from the air as a result.
One criticism I can provide is that for as epic as those final minutes of Rumbleverse can be (Trust me, I’ve been through a few of these clashes already), the actual act of winning feels anticlimactic. The winning player will simply stand motionless and is declared the champ without even so much as a catchy “Victory Royale” message. Given that Rumbleverse takes so much inspiration from the flashiest aspects of professional wrestling, successfully digging 39 holes for 39 souls should feel good. I should see winners doing Fargo struts, Hulk Hogan posedowns, or cracking open a can like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Heck, I’d even settle for someone doing a lame TJP dab. Players have to earn these Rumbleverse victories, so I wish Iron Galaxy would make them feel like they have.
Down since Day One-ish
One issue that will likely fix itself over time is that there aren’t a lot of customization options for Rumbleverse out of the box. Even after participating in the game’s various network tests, I haven’t been able to find a lot to complement my Grapital City vest. A vast majority of the game’s outfit pieces are locked away in the game’s shop in exchange for Brawlla Bills, which can only be purchased with real money. The number of free outfit pieces feels painfully limited, though the array of freebies will likely increase once Rumbleverse’s first Battle Pass becomes available next week.
What can’t be fixed with a Battle Pass is the lack of body customization. There are only six body types, eight skin colors, two (!) head shapes, seven eye colors, and seven eyebrows. That’s all, in terms of body options. Between this and the limited outfit choices, Grapital City’s tourists start to look a little too similar after a while.
Speaking of Grapital City tourists, they come from across various corners of the gaming world, whether it be the land of PC, PlayStation, or Xbox. I played all three versions for this review (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, in the case of the consoles) and all three versions held up similarly well, all playing alongside each other with minimal issues. I did notice some slight input lag issues when playing on console, but nothing that ruined the Rumbleverse experience. Those who don’t want to take a chance on potential lag issues should give the PC version a look first, but Epic Games has made it so that players can carry their progress over seamlessly across every version of Rumbleverse, just as long as the console accounts are tied to a player’s Epic Games account.
Of course, Rumbleverse does have some growing pains. Upon booting the game, I was placed into a long queue in several instances. The queue went as high as 256,000 players at one point and while that number went down fast, I was still waiting for several minutes. Likewise, matchmaking can sometimes take so long, I wondered more than once if I had been left hanging on a search. Playing on a late Sunday night, I saw those matchmaking times improve significantly, which is hopefully a sign that things will get better soon.
The champ is here
Video games over the years have gradually been held to a greater standard. Some have shown themselves capable of being great works of art. It’s a wonderful thing, because games should evolve over time into something greater. Having said that, sometimes you just want to Pele kick someone off a skyscraper or straight-up Hancock toss someone into the ocean. That’s what Rumbleverse is. At its core, it puts 40 players into an abandoned metropolis and tells them to just have as much plain, dumb fun as possible.
Iron Galaxy has not only put forward one of the best games of 2022 so far, it’s also created one of the best battle royales in a long time. It manages to be wildly different from its contemporaries while also being a game worth learning and mastering in its own right. While it’s impossible to predict what Rumbleverse will look like by this time next year or a few years from now, this game is off to a great start and has already shown world champion potential.
This review is based on Epic Games, PlayStation, and Xbox digital codes purchased by the reviewer. Rumbleverse is available now on PC (via the Epic Games Store), PlayStation, and Xbox and is free-to-play. The game is rated T.