Of all the genres of video games out there, fighting games are easily among the most difficult to develop. Requiring precise inputs, satisfying combos, pixel-perfect hitboxes, a distinct tone and, above all else, balance, creating a fighting game is no small feat. It is because of this that I do not envy the team at DCF Studios, an independent upstart studio from Brazil, for cutting their teeth on the genre with their new fighter Cruz Brothers. When you couple this with a dedication to hand-drawn visuals, regular balancing and content updates, a story grounded in the real-life history of two remarkable individuals and a connected game universe, it becomes remarkably clear that DCF Studios are quite ambitious. However, much like the mythical Icarus, they may have just flown too close to the sun here.
Let’s not start off with too much doom and gloom though for there are a ton of positives found within Cruz Brothers. As mentioned before, the game is highly ambitious, and that extends to the modes, including (among many others) multiple arcade modes, multiplayer battles, training and 2v2 fights. However the main star here is the story mode. Presented as a graphic novel with full voice-over (of varying levels of quality), Cruz Brothers’ 2 hour campaign features a number of unique encounter designs, playing with time-limits, stock counts and story integration. The story itself is nothing too special but gets the job done, and has unique references to the real-life Brazilian boxing scene.
The game also features a robust selection of characters, from the titular Cruz Brothers to members of the biker gang Sons of Subversion, to U.S. naval officers and even fighting champ Ryan Johnson (no relation to the controversial director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi Rian Johnson). There are also about 15 unique stages, with another 5 palette swaps. While these stages are not interactable in the way stages in Mortal Kombat X or Injustice are, they are reactive, with environmental destruction showcased as the fights ramp up. For example, in one arena the roof collapses and the floor around the ring catches fire. It has no effect on gameplay, but it is certainly entertaining.
The presentation of Cruz Brothers is something of a mixed bag. As mentioned before, all characters in the game are hand-drawn, and the environments are pre-rendered in CGI. While I’m hardpressed to call Cruz Brothers the most visually impressive game in the Xbox One’s library, it is clean and gets the job done, even if the proportions of the fighters can look a bit… off. The music is hit or miss, with some tracks overstaying their welcome, and others (such as the theme played in the main menu) fun and perfectly fitting of the games’ tone. The voice acting is far from great, and the voice of the arena’s announcer can really get on one’s nerves – I was ready to mute the game after he said “Better stay down boy” for the 50th time. The sound mixing is also poor, with music often drowning out key moments of dialogue.
However, by far and away the most important aspect of a fighting game is the gameplay, and unfortunately this is where Cruz Brothers is at its weakest. Beginning with latency, input lag is a severe issue in Cruz Brothers. My experiences varied dependent on level and fighter, but in one instance there was a 2 second delay between the move I would input and the actual performance of the move. This lead to several instances of my character being stuck in a combo I could not exit, and being beat down senselessly. I had to lower the difficulty in these instances to even the odds. However, come the next level, things would be too easy and I would have to up the difficulty again. Walking is also a mess with these restrictions in delayed input and awkward animations; in many cases, characters just jump around or teleport around the place.
The fighting mechanics don’t fare much better. Special moves all involve the same inputs on the d-pad/analog stick, with the only difference being the button pressed at the end. Other combos just amount to button mashing and hoping for a critical, while super moves are reused among players. Finally, the sheer damage caused by moves on both sides can lead to either side winning the match in a matter of seconds. The only thing ironically lengthening is the bizarre hitboxes and poor hit detection. Partially caused by the stance of fighters, sometimes fighters can be right up in each others’ faces and fail to land a single hit. In other instances, fighters will be struck by punches seemingly far from hitting. It’s perplexing and frustrating.
All of these elements add up to a game that is rich in features, but shallow in depth, so much so that with Cruz Brothers on Xbox One it’s a classic case of adding too much garnish without nailing the meat and potatoes of the core gameplay. Add in the frankly astronomical price tag of £24.99/$30USD/$39CAD, and I can’t in good judgement recommend anyone pick up this game in its current state. There are some great ideas, and an admirable aesthetic, but when you can pick up better fighters such as SoulCalibur VI, Mortal Kombat X, Tekken 7 and even Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite for far less, it’s hard to really justify the price. Hopefully, DCF continues to improve the game and update as promised, but as it currently stands there isn’t enough truly worthwhile content to justify the price, or your time.