Cannon Brawl

Developer: Turtle Sandbox
Publisher: Blitworks
Steam / Xbox / PS4 / Switch

Reviewed on Xbox Series S

The Bottom Line: Combining the destructive mayhem of artillery shooters and the frantic pace of RTS gameplay, Cannon Brawl is a blast either alone or with friends.

Some of my favorite memories from middle school are of sitting in the computer lab and playing Scorched Earth, a turn-based artillery game similar to Worms. My friends and I would carefully aim our shots, probing for the exact angle that would let us rain doom upon one another’s tanks. I’d fire my salvo and then relinquish the keyboard to a friend, who would do likewise, and back and forth we’d go until one of us claimed victory, the battlefield became an irradiated wasteland, or both.

Cannon Brawl captures the essence of that scorching-hot classic while also bringing the action into real time, merging precision artillery and destructible environments with the frantic pace of an RTS. Facing off with opponents in one-on-one duels, you gather resources, construct buildings, and expand your territory, just as in your favorite real-time strategy games, while also eking out spare moments to properly aim your cannons and fire shots at the enemy. It’s an invigorating blend of genres I’m surprised hasn’t been tried by more developers.

Airship Captain Simulator

Whereas typical RTS games put you in the role of an omnipotent god who issues commands by cursor, Cannon Brawl instead gives you control of a single airship. As airship captain you fly around the battlefield, giving orders and firing weapons. To construct new buildings, you must fly to your castle, choose a building, and then maneuver to the spot where you want to build it. Likewise, to fire a cannon, you need dock your airship inside it before taking aim and launching a barrage of destruction. It’s a novel approach to RTS mechanics that makes the game more approachable for newcomers while also rewarding smart players who optimize their routes across the battlefield.

Puzzle stages offer a fun diversion from the standard 1v1 battles. It’s a shame there are not very many of them.

The goal is always to destroy your opponent’s castle before they destroy yours. Being a crack shot with your cannons will only get you so far, however. You also need to expand your territory, represented by color-coded translucent bubbles, and gather resources for construction. Building new structures, whether they be cannons, mines, or defensive systems, causes your territory bubble to expand around them. If you want to expand your territory on the cheap, you can also do so directly by purchasing territory balloons. Besides being great for quickly expanding your kingdom’s reach, these balloons also allow you to claim floating islands, which usually provide superior firing angles for your cannons.

Wartime Economy

How do you pay for all this stuff? In Cannon Brawl’s world Satoshi Nakamoto was never born and cash is still king. If a gold or diamond resource falls within you territory, you can extract cold hard cash from it by topping it with a mine. More mines, more money, more buildings, more rockets in the air. The question, then, is do you try to grab territory quickly so that you can claim that vein of gold before your opponent, or do you first focus on building weapons, so that you can destroy their mine as soon as it’s built?

The selection of weapons at your disposal is modest yet diverse. The most basic weapon is the cannon, which fires a single arcing rocket. The missile launcher, meanwhile, shoots projectiles that split into three smaller missiles at the apex of flight, spreading damage across a wider area. Other weapons include lasers and drills, which are useful for boring through earth, and bombs that can walk through enemy shields unscathed.

Victory is near!

You can also build defensive and support structures to protect and maintain your weapons. Shields block enemy projectiles and repair stations let you heal your buildings. Eventually, you’ll also unlock the option of converting your territory balloons into accelerators. While these cost a bit more upfront, they come with the added advantage of reducing the cooldown times of weapons and buildings nearby.

Campaign Promises

Like its RTS relatives and Wormy cousins, Cannon Brawl offers campaign and multiplayer modes. Although PVP is available from the jump, I recommend playing through the single-player mode first, because many buildings must be unlocked in the campaign before you can deploy them in multiplayer.

The campaign itself is, well, kind of a blast. There is a story, though the less said about it the better. Remember The Lion King? Trouble in the kingdom, evil uncle, yadda yadda? Take out the cute animals and the other good parts and you have a fair approximation of Cannon Brawl’s tale.

Uncle’s not a bad guy – he’s just misunderstood

Most campaign stages introduce a new weapon or device and gently hint at how best to overcome it. Defeat your opponent and (in most cases) that new weapon becomes yours. There are also a handful of puzzle levels that diversify the experience. These stages ask you to accomplish one specific task, such as destroying the enemy castle with a single shot, or surviving an enemy bombardment for a set amount of time. The focus of these levels is less on technical skill and more on problem solving.  If you can deduce the proper strategy for passing a puzzle, you’ll often gain a new tactic that you can put to use in the campaign or multiplayer.

Late to the Party

Multiplayer offers options for both local and online play. The good news is that multiplayer takes all the fun of the campaign and amplifies it by pitting you against a fellow human. The bad news is that, depending on your platform of choice, fellow humans may be hard to come by. When I checked the multiplayer servers on my Xbox, I could count the number of other users on one hand – not promising, though perhaps on Steam or Switch the situation is marginally better.

Disheartened but not defeated, I instead coaxed a friend into playing a few rounds of local multiplayer. What quickly became clear is that this is not a casual game. The skill ceiling is high and winning requires speed and precision. There’s also zero rubber banding and few random elements; if you think a blue shell or super star will materialize to save you when you’ve fallen behind, you’ve got another think coming. Those looking for a casual game to share with friends and family may want to stick with the turn-based mayhem of Worms instead.

Despite the short campaign and spotty multiplayer, Cannon Brawl is still easy for me to recommend. No other game lets me fly an airship and bombard enemies in real time like this one. Even if I never find an online match, the enjoyment of playing the campaign made the game worthwhile, and Nightmare Mode is still there waiting for me if I ever find myself in the mood for a deeper challenge.

Rating: 86 of 100 Pixels