“This time, let’s just race. No fighting. Okay?” my 6 year old son Archer says, putting his arm around his twin brother Harry who’s a little upset that he didn’t win for the 3rd match of Big Crown Showdown in a row. “Yeah!” he agrees, which is met with enthusiastic nods of agreement from both their younger and older brothers, Quinn and Logan. They start another game. The countdown begins. 5. 4. Harry shoots me a cheeky grin as I watch them play. 3. I can see it coming. 2. He’s charging up his punch. 1. Go! He unleashes his charged punch, his pink Grumblegard Knight dashing forward, knocking both Logan and Archer’s knights into the water to the side of the track, earning him an early points lead. Logan’s mouth hung open in disbelief as Archer jumps to his feet to shout “BUT WE SAID NO FIGHTING!?”. Harry was too busy giggling at his betrayal however to notice 3 year old Quinn run his green Knight up behind him and punch him in the back – only his charged punch sends him over the edge too. Plop. They both hit the water. The room then erupts in a few friendly jibes and laughter as Quinn celebrates and they all respawn.
Like the best party games, Big Crown Showdown is as much about what happens off the screen as what’s happening on it and it does so by being an accessible tool for getting up to mischief.
Big Crown Showdown has a story of sorts that’s presented at the start of the game in a short cut scene. The king, clad in his Big Crown, has been attacked by a mysterious wizard so calls for his Grumblegard, 4 tiny Knights of various colours, to defend him. The wizard opens up a portal which sucks the crown and the Knights into it, thus setting up the window dressing for the game itself. This is all surface level stuff which has literally no bearing on the game play but is worth mentioning regardless.
The actual Big Crown Showdown game then – A 2-4 player local and online multiplayer game (the split of which can be mixed, allowing you to lobby up with someone from across the world while playing with up to 3 people at home), you play as the 4 Grumblegard knights as they vie for control of the crown by competing for points. The game is set on a large variety of isometric tracks on which a camera slowly pans around. The idea is to stay on the track and within the camera’s view (as leaving the field of vision for more than a few seconds cost you a life) and to stay alive while also attempting to knock your opponents off the track. You’re awarded points by how many of your 5 lives you have remaining by the end of a match (either when more than one player reaches the exit portal to the next track or by being the last Knight with any lives left) and by punching your opposition off the track and to their doom. The tracks are randomised and you play one after another until one Knight is crowned the winner by racking up 25 points.
There’s subtle nuance to the game play here, especially around punching. A tap of the attack button and you’ll swing a haymaker but hold it down for a few seconds and you charge your punch which gives you a little dash forward followed by a jab when released. There is a defence to this though – hold your shield button down and you raise up a large shield which protects your front. Point a shield at someone attempting to punch you and they ricochet off at the pace at which they attack you. There’s real joy in pinging someone off your shield and off the track as they try to punch you. Alternatively, you can jump. The little Grumblegard can get quite a lot of altitude out of their tiny legs so hopping over someone as they attempt to punch you into a watery respawn is equally as joyful.
If it’s not your Big Crown Showdown opponents that are causing you mild panics, it’ll be the tracks themselves. All manner of obstacles are thrown in your direction – water flowing over the platform which will drag you along and off if you stand in it too long, platforms which crack then crumble away after being jumped on twice, a body of water that rises then falls in a few seconds, steam vents that’ll blow you clean off the track, ice cold blasts that’ll surely slow you down and a load more. Getting around a track and over these traps at the pace at which the camera pans isn’t particularly difficult but when you’ve got 3 other players waiting to punch you into a steam vent that’s halted your progress for just a second, Big Crown Showdown becomes frantic, tense and bursting with hilarity.
Big Crown Showdown has this lovely family friendly charisma in almost everything it does. From the art style, bright and easily understandable, to the soundtrack which sounds like something you’d hear being played at a medieval nightclub, it’s all really pleasant. A nice touch is the ability to unlock new hats, purchased with coins you can collect from chests around the levels. There’s more than 15 of these to collect and add a little bit more personality to each Knight – It might have been nice to be able to choose the colour of the Knights too, but these options do just enough to allow you to put your own stamp on them. There’s also great use of the Dualshock 4 speakers in Big Crown Showdown, the controller making grunting and squeaking noises when you jump or punch which all adds to the hilarity.
If there’s one thing I think could improve Big Crown Showdown it’s an indicator about camera movement. Some of the tracks in the game have you changing direction regularly. One particular map has you running left, then up, then down, onto a boat which pans diagonally downward, then right until the end to keep up with the camera changes. These camera movement changes have been enough to upset all 4 players on occasion, sending them all leaping into some water, especially when the level design doesn’t immediately point towards a change of camera movement. An arrow that flashed on screen a few seconds before the camera started to pan in a different direction would have totally negated this.
An unnecessary story and a small niggle aside, Big Crown Showdown is an enjoyable, accessible, family friendly party game that’s suitable for any gamer, no matter how small. It’s a colourful tool for getting up to mischief with a group of friends on your couch or across the world with online play. Having a party this Christmas and want a new game to play? Give some serious consideration to adding Big Crown Showdown to the mix.
Big Crown Showdown is available now on PS4 (review version), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Hyper Luminal Games
Publisher: Sold Out
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a code from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.