My friends and I have an unspoken and inconsistent tradition of buying each other games around Christmas time. There’s about 7-8 of us that have known each other for 20+ years. We also gift games randomly at other times of the year, and sometimes one of us watches a video and decides some of us “just have to have” a particular game. This is usually done when there’s a four-pack sale available. The last game I did this was FTL, and everyone was pleasantly surprised by how excellent it was.
The gifted game is usually some combination of the following: gag gift, comical, shamefully ignored, several years old, or excellent. Sometimes it’s all of the above. “All of the above” is the case with Broforce, which a friend of mine purchased for us a few weeks ago. The more I play the game, the more I become both mentally aroused and confused (liberated?). Thanks, bro! (I think.)
Doing a little research for this article, I found myself looking for developer blogs, vlogs and social media posts that reveal the motivations behind the game. When I first fired up Broforce, it was with friends. The game felt like it was intended to be a farce. Playing the multiplayer at first, I didn’t pay much attention, and we just skipped through the briefing screens to get to the main experience. Later I played it alone and I became less certain that Broforce was a simple joke. As an American it felt a little too on the nose. I wondered if the game was made as an intentional parody or if it was the work of developers whose beliefs have led to the creation of a fully accurate representation of American imperialist policy and culture encased in a retro gaming pop-culture shell. Are they making fun of America? Worshipping it? Just making something ridiculous? All of these? Probably, but in what ratios? I still want to know.
Broforce is a traditional retro shooter-platformer. Players take control of a “Bro”, as a member of “Broforce”, a military organization that fights terrorists. Full of references and puns, the game pays homage to classic action movie characters and plots with a small twist: All characters names have some play on “Bro” in their names. In the campaign, players use a world map to travel to different areas and select an area to destroy terrorists and rescue Bros. There is a campaign, a level editor (which I didn’t get to for this eXcursion), and versus play of several varieties.
The first campaign level is the Broforce version of the plot from Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), in which Rambo tries to find POWs in Vietnam long after the official end of the conflict. If you recall (without clicking) “Weird” Al Yankovic’s parody of Rambo rescue Stanley Spadowski in his 1989 classic sketch movie“UHF”, you’ve probably got a full appreciation of the Rambo pop culture that’s baked into the soul of Broforce. Players first get control of “Rambro”, with a familiar AK-47 and frag grenades (though sadly not the bow and explosive-tipped arrows from the movie). Through the levels, players find POWs in cages, which give extra lives. Freeing POWs also unlocks more Bros for variety. Each Bro is inspired by a classic action movie character, most of them from 80s and 90s movies. The game is simply brimming with action movie tropes and references, and the characters are all inspired by action stars like Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Will Smith, Wesley Snipes, and even cult stars like Bruce Campbell. Click here for a full list.
Players have plenty of firepower, but each Bro distributes it in unique ways that mirror movie characters. For example, Bronan the Brobarian dispenses mayhem via his trusty Atlantean bastard sword, but The Brominator wields the signature minigun from Terminator 2. These Bros, both inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger characters, play very differently. The minigun pushes you back as you fire, and the sword has a very short range.
Characters also have a limited number of special attacks that also vary widely between characters. For example, Bronan’s special is a massive jumping slash that kills enemies at range, whereas The Brominator reveals his metal endoskeleton and gives the player temporary invincibility. Special attacks can be refilled when players find pickups. Of course, every character ability ripped from a movie is balanced in some way for the game. The movie terminator could survive clouds of small arms fire, but a single hit from any enemy or any falling terrain will kill you regardless of which Bro you’re controlling.
Predictably, this one-hit mechanic means you die. A lot. If you have another life, you respawn as a new random Bro from your rescued Bro collection. If you don’t, you start the level over. There is also a checkpoint system which players mark by raising the American flag at a flagpole, moving your spawn point forward. There are also some levels with flags on raised scaffolding reminiscent of classic pl the original Super Mario Bros. These flags are rare and mark a checkpoint where players will start even if they run out of lives.
The terrain is virtually 100% destructible, and some of it is designed to kill you. Some enemies fire homing missiles or have suicide vests, and you have account for the fact that some destruction is inevitable. Exploding barrels are an unavoidable video game and movie trope, so of course they’re here, strategically placed, and abundant. That’s cool, because not only can you use explosions to destroy your enemies, but you can also jump off of explosions to increase your movement options (think rocket jumping in Quake except it doesn’t hurt you). Some optional challenge levels are entirely designed around this hilarious ability.
But beware: it’s possible to destroy the terrain in a way that makes the level impossible to complete. Think Will Smith’s Noisy Cricket weapon in Men in Black (1997). This is tough because you can often get out of your own mess by scaling vertical walls, but it happens. If you get stuck, you can try to climb by pulling out your knives to use as moveable hand holds. In some situations you can destroy terrain to help skip past difficult enemies, make a path, or avoid boss abilities. Broforce actually involves thinking at times.
The variety in gameplay between Bros makes for interesting choices. Whenever you rescue a POW, you not only get an extra life, but you also immediately switch to a new random Broforce member out of those you’ve unlocked. Your new Bro also starts with full special attack uses, so I found myself trying to use them up before rescuing the next caged Bro. Some Bros are rather overpowered and some are relatively strange or useless. Players will definitely have favorites, and there are some levels and situations where a particular Bro will simply not be able to get out alive. Other times, it will feel like rescuing a POW is a mistake because your current Bro is OP and you don’t want to switch.
Unlocking Bros and encountering new enemies is punctuated with animated splash screens announcing their addition to the game. The art investment in these is quite high given how long they’re on screen, but it adds flavor and interest, making the events memorable. Enemies range from lowly grunts called “Basic Mooks” (Is that racist? Sure seems like it) to baddies with chainguns and mini bosses that take up half the screen. Each is introduced with not just visual fanfare, but a gravelly-voiced announcer screaming their name. It has to be heard to be fully understood.
The game carries forward the cultural phenomenon of “bro” becoming a unisex term (hopefully used ironically) like “dude.” In what is sure to have a triggering effect on some, females are also present in hyper-masculine form. Ellen Ripbro (Ellen Ripley) and The Brode (The Bride) are among several female characters whose action movie ass-kicking status has earned them a Bro moniker and a spot on the Broforce team.
The game is also full of references to the American ideals of freedom and liberty, accompanied by American symbolism (flags, eagles, etc). It’s utterly shameless and over the top in its execution, just like America. Cultural appropriation also makes an appearance. James Bond and William Wallace are shown as Double Bro Seven and Broheart. Doesn’t matter if you’re a foreign character or a woman. You’re all equal before the Broforce as long as you can kick ass and look strong. Furthering the cultural smorgasboard, finishing levels awards players with an “AREA LIBERATED” screen that replays all the death animations and gore of all the characters eliminated. Players finish each level by jumping onto a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter. The helicopter escapes and the area below is blanketed in explosions. If that’s the wrong way to distribute Freedom™ to the world’s poor, huddled masses then Broforce doesn’t wanna be right.
In this way, Broforce depicts a cartoony (but often accurate) version of America’s oft-monetized culture of “save the world” foreign policy and hyper-masculinity. As fun as the game is, I’m an educated person who grew up watching these films. Even though I thought about the ridiculousness of the depiction with a critical take while having my fun, I couldn’t help but think about younger kids (click here and observe the “bro” in the pink hat) playing the game without the life experience and education. The game manages to be fun, hilarious, and also full of witty, biting social commentary on bro culture (or is that just my interpretation based on my white American guilt?). Maybe the devs are “liberating” me from that. Games like this are special.
It’s clear that we can expect more of the same from this dev team. They have also put out a game where players control detached penises in multiplayer minigame battles. The fact that I’m considering whether to link that game or not is also interesting because I’ve had no problem putting up screenshots of death, gore, and destruction, but I’m balking at linking a game depicting sexual stuff. More social commentary from the studio? I guess I still can’t tell if they’re doing it on purpose or just having fun, or both. Maybe we don’t have to choose?
Expect to get about 8-10 hours out of a single player version of the game’s campaign. Of course this will vary depending on skill. I’ve come close to beating the campaign but the final boss (SPOILER ALERT: IT’S SATAN.) is pretty difficult. I was able to complete all the other levels without retrying bosses or mini bosses more than a handful of times, but the final boss encounter threw that trend out the window. The final set of levels before the last boss encounter is very long. It’s punctuated with timed jumping puzzles and mini bosses. While there’s a permanent checkpoint before the final encounter, if you quit to desktop you have to do it all over. If that sort of thing frustrates you, look for something else for entertainment.
If you choose to helicopter into the jungle, I suggest doing it with a friend or three. If not, then the game at least deserves your attention in the form of a few YouTube videos. As a gaming artifact, Broforce simply must be seen in action to be fully appreciated.
Until next time, bros.
TL;DR: Broforce is an arcade style retro sidescrolling platformer filled with action movie Bros, aliens, eagles, flags, hyper-masculinized women, jawlines, beards, guns, explosions, terrorists, gore, and Satan. It’s over the top and ridiculous, but also fun and well executed.
You might like this game if:
- YOU LOVE ‘MURICA
- YOU LOVE FREEDOM
- YOU LOVE BEING A BRO
- YOU LOVE ‘SPLOSIONS AND GUNS
- YOUR IDEA OF SOUND FOREIGN POLICY INVOLVES JUST KILLIN’ BAD GUYS
- You also like subtle social commentary of all of the above
You might NOT like this game if:
- YOU HATE AMERICA
- YOU ARE A TERRORIST
- You want your American flags to be drawn correctly even in pixel art
- You are triggered by women being called “Bros” and depicted as if they’re men
- You are enraged when a game contains any timed levels and/or the occasional jumping challenge
Disclosure: Matt received a gift copy of Broforce as a part of a 4-pack a friend purchased. Matt has played about 10 hours of Broforce on a custom-built PC which has an Intel i7-6700K, 16GB DDR3 RAM, and an MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6GB.