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Crystal Brawl minimalistic sports game is 'Gauntlet meets NBA Jam'

Studio Mercato's Crystal Brawl takes the very basic nature of competitive games — the driving need to score more points than your opponents — and bundles it in a cartoony, colorful wrapper that makes it a quirky derivative from the basic sports game formula.

On first glance, the game looked to me to be similar to TowerFall's aesthetics mashed up with minimalistic sports game Hokra. But Stokes said the idea behind Crystal Brawl was to create a blend of "Gauntlet meets NBA Jam."

Up to four players can compete in Crystal Brawl in two-on-two matches. There are four characters to choose from, each based on a classic medieval figure: a rogue, a knight, a wizard and an archer. Teams compete on a square battleground sprinkled with trees, rocks, hills and small lakes which players must navigate around as they play. In order to score a point, a team must carry a glowing ball into their designated goal. In the demo I played, the first team to three points won the round.

Each character has its own unique movement as he scurries across the playing field. The wizard, which looked like a small gray blob reminiscent of Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, hopped across the field, while the knight ran with an exaggerated movement, his knees swinging high. The playing field itself was awash in bright colors and satisfying thuds and clinks would sound out as players knocked into each other and stole the ball. The overall presentation was cutesy and enjoyable to watch; I got really into speeding my hopping wizard across the field.

The catch in Crystal Brawl is each character, in addition to the standard move of passing the ball, has two special powers to use against other players. For example, the wizard was able to shoot ice beams that would knock down opponents or freeze terrain. I could also teleport across short distances, making it easier for me to swoop in and steal the ball from the other team. The rogue also has a power that will slow other players down, and the archer can use his trademark ranged weapon to sneak in an attack.

Stokes restated that NBA Jam and Gauntlet were the two starting pillars for Crystal Brawl, noting that the studio wanted that goofy action present in the former game while preserving the strategy of the latter.

"We just wanted to make something with some strategy and action elements," he said. "NBA Jam and Gauntlet were the big inspirations. What's NBA about it, what we wanted, is that two-on-two cartoony, unrealistic action.

"The medieval aesthetic fit the strategy element, we thought — we were going for an RPG/strategy feel," he added. "But honestly, we just did a lot of brainstorming and settled on it. In the beginning they were all going to be monsters, like Frankenstein, Dracula and a werewolf."

Crystal Brawl was originally created for the Ouya. But as development moved forward on the minimalistic sports title, creator Jon Stokes realized the title was no longer a good fit for the Android microconsole.

"It's outgrown Ouya," Stokes told Polygon. "The game is built in HTML 5, and it just doesn't perform well on the Ouya."

Now that the studio has decided against launching on Ouya, Stokes said Studio Mercato is aiming for a release on consoles for Crystal Brawl — Xbox One and PS4 namely, "something with dual stick controls."

You can check out a trailer for Crystal Brawl composed of alpha gameplay footage below.

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