Cannon Brawl melds the tactical warfare and destructible terrain of Worms with the twitch reactions required of a Call of Duty style shooter. There’s lots to see and do and Cannon Brawl is certainly a fun action game – especially in multiplayer – but it struggles to deliver on its promise of an engaging battle of wits.
Originally a PC title released in 2013, Cannon Brawl is a 2D real-time strategy game that pits players against AI and human opponents, both local and online. You command your base from a mobile airship that you move around the map, building offensive and defensive units to destroy your opponent’s castle while protecting your own. There’s a familiar feel – but rather than commanding soldiers, you have direct control over the weapons you deploy
Each time you use a weapon or defensive ability, it has a cool down of a couple of seconds. This forces you to diversify your strategy, deploying a range of attacking and defensive units to ensure success. The more intense the battle, though, the more this feels like an exercise in plate spinning. Units don’t come back into action immediately after cool-down – rather you must re-enable each before it can join the fray.
Mastering this management of resources at your disposal is key. During battles, it is easy to find yourself wondering why a unit was destroyed only to realise you didn’t reactivate its protective force field. As the battle heats up, any tactical thinking and overarching strategy gives way to frantic clicking as you scan your units looking for the next thing that needs your attention. Everything feels more like a time management stress test than strategy.
This is especially disheartening when pitched against an AI opponent. It feels as though the AI performs flawlessly, especially on larger battlefields. With no human error – or some faux representation – in the mix, probing for enemy weaknesses becomes a thankless task as you fight simply to stay in the battle. The lack of any kind of comeback mechanic is also telling – once damage has started to mount on either team, it becomes a major uphill battle to beat the odds. He who shoots first tends to laugh last in Cannon Brawl. Together, these elements do little to encourage experimentation on successive plays through.
That’s not to say it’s always going to be the same. Before the start of each battle, players are offered choices that give each fight a new and unique feel. First, you choose your pilot for your airship. Each pilot has different abilities such as repairing nearby buildings or reducing cool down timers. After selecting your pilot, you can examine the map and then choose five of the many unit types available. Think of this as your load-out – select the cannons or missiles to rain fire from above to get a round a mountain blocking a direct path, or get the laser cannon to shoot through narrow openings. It’s often said that no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy but at least here, in the calm before the coming storm, there’s some welcome opportunity to engage the grey matter.
The campaign does a great job at getting you comfortable with gameplay mechanics, as well as offer narrative to the story. With each level early on, you’ll discover a new building or weapon and be given details on when and how to use it. Upon beating that level, your new unit will become available for you to use. There are 57 campaign missions as well as a “nightmare mode” which is unlocked when you beat the first campaign. Nightmare mode is exactly what it sounds like. Nightmare mode took the little bit of fun out of each level and replaced it with AI that goes right for the throat like you owed them a large sum of money.
Battle past the campaign’s half way point, though, and it will feel like Cannon Brawl’s shot its bolt – most of the unlockable content will be available at that stage making the second half of the campaign feel like lather, rinse, repeat.
Outside of single player though, there is a full list of multiplayer options. Couch multiplayer is great for ruining friendships as you go head to head. You can also take the fight to Xbox Live and battle against a friend, or match make in the unranked or ranked playlists. There are premade maps that offer no strategic advantage which is nice, keeping the battles fair. There is a ton to do in Cannon Brawl either by yourself or with a friend.
The game looks and sounds exactly how it should. Explosions sound rewarding and convincing and when you are shooting rockets and bombs the size of buildings, it has that cartoon look to support it. Colours are bright and really add life to the almost steampunk aesthetic. Menus are easy to navigate and controls are simple to use. We encountered a couple of technical glitches – the cursor would pull down without a controller being touched (hardware issues were rules out) and we had a couple of freezes during a second play through, though these were isolated so we’re not ready to assign blame to the game at this stage.
Cannon Brawl is a fun, beautiful, and lively game that pushes you win a strategic war but really forces you to push buttons and makes decisions as fast as you can, instead of think. It offers a ton of depth with each level asking to be beaten using a different array of weapons, but the strategy tends to get lost in the cacophony. Cannon Brawl might not deliver on all of its promises, but succeeds at enough of them to make it an enjoyable experience.
Cannon Brawl is available from the Xbox Store priced £7.99.
Have you been playing Cannon Brawl? Let us know what you think of it in the comment section below!
Cannon Brawl isn't the strategy heavy warfighter it wants to be, but it's a really fun arcade game.
Cannon Brawl asks you to focus on strategy but gives you no real way to strategize during gameplay. It does however offer fun, arcade style gameplay and a ton of depth that offers many ways to play – against AI, friends, or the world.