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Twisted Metal is easily one of my favorite franchises of all time. The vehicular combat genre was pretty big in the nineties and seems to have died down significantly over the years. Twisted Metal, Interstate ’76, Vigilante 8, Carmageddon, and Rogue Trip: Vacation 2012 are just some of the games that you probably heard of or even played back in the day if you were even around but there was always something special about Twisted Metal in my opinion. Even the more modern car combat games lack the spark that makes Twisted Metal as special as it is. Up until Twisted Metal: Black, the series was known for its cartoon-y style and humor and the series as a whole is known for its intense action-packed gameplay. Twisted Metal III and 4 are the outcasts due to some changes to the gameplay which is really the result of a different developer. And despite what some dedicated Twisted Metal fans may think, Twisted Metal III is not that bad. It was my first entry in the series but I’ll be the first to admit the storylines are pretty terrible and it’s not a perfect game. But neither are the others. Developed by Incognito Entertainment and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Twisted Metal: Small Brawl was released for the PlayStation in November, 2001. This was actually released after Twisted Metal: Black and unlike that game, this is clearly targeting a younger audience. I had always heard this game was awful and I acquired years after its release.
In traditional Twisted Metal fashion, Small Brawl contains storylines, if you want to call them that, for each driver. The gameplay is relatively the same as previous entries except this time you get to drive remote controlled cars because all of the drivers are children. Many of the same vehicles you know and love make return which also means their drivers return including Needles Kane as Sweet Tooth, Officer Roberts as Outlaw, Agent Stone as Crimson Fury, Mortimer as Shadow, and several others. The premise here is basically the same as previous games. The local bully Billy Calypso is running the Twisted Metal contest and invites the neighborhood kids to participate. The winner of the contest can request anything they want from Calypso and most of them want to get back at him because he’s a little asshole. To win the contest, you need to defeat all opponents in each battleground of which there are eight total in the Tournament. There’s an intro movie when you first fire up the game and an ending movie for all vehicles, minus the unlockable ones, and I do like how you can watch any already unlocked ending movie from the main menu. Each driver does have a motive for joining the tournament and you can read their backstory from the vehicle selection screen. The ending movies, where you can see what happens when your driver wins the contest, are one of the reasons you would want to play through the tournament mode. Unfortunately, the driver backstories and wishes for winning don’t match up in terms of humor or writing when compared to other games in the series. The voice acting is what you would expect if you were to watch a typical cartoon back in the day and the end movies do get a little wacky and over-the-top but nothing about the drivers are truly memorable. When I really think about it, though, what’s really over-the-top is that these kids have access to extremely dangerous ballistic weaponry like machine guns with infinite ammo, napalm, and missiles.
Twisted Metal: Small Brawl contains three difficulty modes – Easy, Medium, and Hard – and three gameplay modes – Tournament, Challenge, and Endurance. The game does support up to two players and contains multiple multiplayer modes but I didn’t get a chance to try them. At first, you only have access to eleven vehicles but there are sixteen total. Because the drivers are mostly forgettable here, I think the only real motivation to play through the Tournament mode is to unlock four of the hidden vehicles, with the fifth being unlocked through Endurance. Two of them are unlocked by completing certain actions in specific battlegrounds in the Tournament. Another is unlocked in a similar fashion but through the Endurance mode because it needs to be done in a hidden battleground that does not appear in the Tournament. Yes, there are also hidden battlegrounds. The other two hidden vehicles are the bosses. One is unlocked by winning the tournament with each standard vehicle and the other is unlocked by winning the Tournament on Hard with the first unlocked boss. Needless to say, unlocking the boss vehicles is a long and repetitive process, although it does force you to experience and try every vehicle. If you don’t have that kind of patience, you could also use GameShark. Luckily, this game does allow you to save your progress to the memory card.
The Tournament mode is where you progress through eight battlegrounds in an effort to win the contest, see your driver’s ending movie, and to unlock other vehicles. The objective in each battleground is the same. Destroy all opponents to win. Every vehicle has different stats in armor, acceleration, top speed, and handling. Finding a vehicle that works best for you is all part of the fun and they do have their own strengths and weaknesses. They’re all equipped with dual machine guns with infinite ammo that do very little damage and you can also ram into opponents to cause damage. You’ll want to acquire and utilize the many weapon pick-ups scattered throughout the battlegrounds. You can perform special attacks and moves by entering special button combinations and most of these do drain energy which will slowly regenerate over time. Unfortunately, like Twisted Metal 2, the button combinations don’t always register which becomes annoying. These moves include jumping, rear fire, activating a temporary shield which blocks all incoming attacks, a freeze attack, dropping land mines, and firing your special weapon without having to select it first. Every vehicle has their own unique special weapon that does major damage. Special weapons cannot be acquired in the battlegrounds but they do regenerate over time. Mime is one of the hidden vehicles and it’s interesting because it will copy the special weapon of the nearest opponent. All vehicles can accelerate, brake, drive in reverse, and activate turbo for a boost of speed but using turbo does drain through your turbo battery. If your vehicle is on fire, turbo can be utilized to put the fire out, and if an opponent freezes you, you can mash buttons causing your vehicle to jump which I believe helps you break out faster. In the Tournament and Challenge modes, you’ll start each battleground with three lives and if you lose all three, it’s game over. When you take damage, you lose health or in this case, drain battery. You can restore your health and turbo by finding the appropriate battery pick-ups throughout the battlegrounds.
The gameplay in Twisted Metal: Small Brawl is basically that of Twisted Metal 2, although this feels slower-paced which is a big problem. The battles don’t feel as intense and in a large battleground like Gridiron Gore, the gameplay can get really boring. It’s just boring driving around a wide open area trying to chase down enemies at such a slow pace. But if you’ve played any other game in the series, everything should feel familiar to some extent. Destroying your opponents is all about using weapons. Many of the classic weapon pick-ups make a return including the fire missile, homing missile, power missile, napalm which now has significant homing abilities, ricochet bomb, remote bomb, and environmental weapons. Environmental weapons are unique to certain battlegrounds and activate something in the environment that can cause damage to vehicles. For example, if you activate the environmental weapon in Minigolf Mayhem, fireballs will come flying out of the volcano and rain down. In Tree Top Rumble, fireworks will come flying out of a box and across the environment. And in Easy Death Oven, icicles will come flying out of the fridge. For environmental weapons to be effective, your opponents need to be in specific areas. New to Small Brawl are Roman Candles which are actually really good against large opponents, they can be fired rapidly, and can bounce off of the ground and walls. You can also acquire mystery weapon pick-ups in which provide you a random weapon. Weapons do stack in your inventory and you can switch between them at any time. Knowing the battleground and using weapon pick-ups in combination with the special moves is the key to winning.
In addition to the Tournament mode are the Challenge and Endurance modes. Challenge is basically a skirmish mode and is just like the Challenge mode in Twisted Metal 2. You choose your vehicle, battleground, and opponents and battle it out for fun. This, or its Deathmatch equivalent in Twisted Metal III and 4, is where I would spend most of my time after unlocking everything. In Endurance, you choose your battleground and vehicle, and the game pits you against one opponent at a time to see how long you can last. There’s three hidden battlegrounds that are unlocked by defeating specific amounts of enemies in the Endurance mode – Holiday Havoc, Shock Therapy, and Buster’s Lanes. These battlegrounds do not appear in the Tournament so you can only battle in them in the Challenge or Endurance modes and I assume the multiplayer modes. Instead of taking place in major cities or areas like previous games, all of the battlegrounds in Small Brawl are set in normal every day areas like a playground, kitchen, bowling alley, movie theater, and more. Remember, these are kids with RC cars, so the environments do fit the theme. Throughout the battlegrounds are hazards you need to watch out for like blades and crushers, among others. You can destroy various objects and destroy things that reveal secret areas so it is in your best interest to do a little exploring. The environments are somewhat interesting and contain comical elements. For example, you can fire a missile or any weapon up the plumber’s ass in Easy Death Oven which does reveal a secret area housing goodies. You can see Santa Clause stuck in the chimney in Holiday Havoc. In Girdiron Gore, you’ll need to watch out for the Lawn Mower driving around aimlessly because the driver fell asleep. I think my favorite battlegrounds are Easy Death Oven, Holiday Havoc, and Tree Top Rumble. Sadly, there are no pedestrians running around that you can run over or kill so the violence is only limited to the vehicles in battle.
As expected, the enemy AI in this game is just like it is in every other game in this series developed by David Jaffe’s group. Say what you want about Twisted Metal III and 4 but at least the enemy AI in those games saw improvements. I’m not even talking about anything huge, they just go for health when they need it and will actually attack each other. And, no, it doesn’t make the games too easy. Most of the time, you’ll kill all the opponents. But just like Twisted Metal, Twisted Metal 2, Twisted Metal: Black, Twisted Metal: Head-On, and even Twisted Metal (2012), the enemies in Small Brawl will target you and only you. If they’re not near you, they’re just driving around aimlessly somewhere in the battleground. I’ll give the game some slack given the age of the title, but as mentioned before, even Twisted Metal III and 4, which get unnecessarily shit on, have better enemy AI than the rest of the games in the series. Different engine or not, a little more enemy intelligence is all I’m asking for. The unchanged enemy AI becomes more noticeable with each passing game. Why is this a problem, you ask? Because it’s a supposed to be a contest but it’s not much of a contest if the player is the only target. I understand this is a multiplayer-focused series, I’m not blind to that fact, but there’s no doubt in my mind that improvements to the enemy AI would most certainly add more immersion to the contest and would not break the game. The only time I saw enemies attack each other was when there was a bunch of us clustered together in an area so it definitely wasn’t intentional. Surprisingly, on rare occasions, I have seen opponents go for health pick-ups. But most of the time they don’t. On a positive note, unlike Twisted Metal 2, enemy vehicles don’t constantly spam the freeze attack here but the bosses do love to activate shields frequently. The two bosses in the game are actually quite challenging. They have plenty of armor so taking them down won’t be so easy. Minion is one of my favorite vehicles in the series but, sadly, he doesn’t make an appearance here. Instead we get the mid-boss Trapper which can fire a red monkey as a special weapon. It’s actually an annoying weapon not because it inflicts a lot of damage but because it multiplies upon colliding with anything. The final boss is Piecemeal and this battle really drags on. There are enemies to defeat and once one is defeated, the rest disappear and you battle Piecemeal, and after draining a certain amount of his health, he disappears and the rest of the enemies re-appear. You just keep going through this process until Piecemeal is defeated. The Piecemeal vehicle is actually made up of parts from the various other RC vehicles. It has access to all special weapons in the game but will only use the specials of the other opponents in the current battle, with the exception of Sweet Tooth for some reason.
Twisted Metal: Small Brawl released well after the first two games and somehow it looks as if it was released sometime between them. I think it looks a bit better than the first game but worse than Twisted Metal 2. Everything is colorful, I like how the explosions look, and I like how the visuals retain the cartoon-y style of Twisted Metal 2. I also like how when your vehicle takes damage, you can see parts of it fly off and the vehicle models will show visible damage. But I can’t say the game looks clean or sharp or particularly good. The music may actually be the best part of this game, although a lot of the songs are remixes of Twisted Metal 2 songs. That means much of the soundtrack is heavy metal with awesome tunes. The sound effects are nothing special if you’ve played Twisted Metal 2. It is cool to hear missiles whizzing past your vehicle and the remote bomb does sound booming when it explodes. On the technical side, the frame rate will be up and down which is expected if you’ve played any other Twisted Metal game on the original PlayStation. The frame rate will dip heavily when there’s a lot of action on-screen. There’s definitely some clipping but I didn’t experience any serious issues or game-breaking bugs.
There’s nothing about Twisted Metal: Small Brawl that stands out. I have no real problem with the premise and there’s a good chance you’ll forget you’re driving RC cars because the core gameplay is basically unchanged. You drive around open environments and try to destroy all your opponents. However, all the other games have character, charm, a spark, something that makes them stand out. I can’t say that about Small Brawl. It’s just generic by Twisted Metal standards. If anything stands out about it, it’s the slow-paced gameplay which makes battles less exciting and more boring, especially because there’s nothing really new here. And while the storylines for the characters in the other games are not incredible by any means, their backstories and motives for joining the contest are more interesting than the kids here. I would play through the Tournament in each game with each vehicle just because I wanted to see what happened to the drivers. With Small Brawl, that feeling subsided after the first few wins. I can’t say I didn’t have any fun with Small Brawl because, honestly, it does contain the same Twisted Metal gameplay we all know and love. It’s just slower-paced and less exciting. It’s enjoyable for the first five or ten minutes until you realize that the prior games did it better.
I find it interesting that fans of the series often consider Twisted Metal III to be the worst in the series, and 2 or Black to be the best, depending on who you talk to, and yet the very same company that developed Black, developed Small Brawl, which I would say is easily the worst game in the series. I don’t know if it was actually the same people behind both games but there’s really nothing special about this entry and it feels like it’s stuck in the past, even when it released. The gameplay is slow-paced, it looks dated, and it basically retreads old ground without doing anything new or memorable. I’ve always questioned why this game even exists. It feels so unnecessary. It’s actually not a bad car combat game but it is a bad Twisted Metal game. You could argue it was designed for a younger audience, but so what? This has all been done before and better I might add. I don’t even mind the premise. This could have still been designed for the same audience and saw improvements to the gameplay. In the end, it feels like Twisted Metal 2 with the fun and excitement stripped out of it. I would only recommend this to Twisted Metal fans and even then, almost every other game in this series is better, including Twisted Metal III and 4. If you’re looking to get into the series for the first time, I would say start with Twisted Metal 2, Black, or Head-On. Don’t let Small Brawl be your gateway into the series.