Arena shooters are a dime a dozen these days. Ever since Overwatch, you can hardly turn around without seeing team-based shooters with a colorful cast of characters. It’s a crowded field. So how does Rocket Arena, the newest of these games, intend to stand out from the crowd?
The gameplay is very simple. Rocket Arena is a class-based multiplayer shooter, pitting teams of three against each other in a handful of different modes. Each of the characters have a few different abilities that help them stand out from the rest of the crowd. These abilities tend to be pretty simple, usually things like a protective barrier, or explosive shots. A few of the characters have some more involved abilities, however. For example, one of my favorite characters, the stage magician Mysteen, has an ability to create a doppelganger of herself that moves and attacks enemies. She can change positions with the clone with the push of a button. All of the characters have the ability to triple jump, and items that you can pick up during gameplay can enhance your mobility.
"Unfortunately, this positive first impression lasts only for a few hours thanks to the disappointingly shallow gameplay."
At first impression, this sounds like a solid game, and in some ways, it is. The characters all feel diverse; none of them overlap too heavily with any of the other characters abilities. Some of them have pretty good synergy with their abilities, and there are some really interesting character designs as well. In fact, one of the places this game excels is its visuals and character design. The characters are bright and exaggerated, and they have a certain cartoon charm that makes them appealing. Characters stand out well from the environment, and important information is prominently displayed.
Different artifacts can be unlocked that provide passive boosts for your characters. But the game automatically equips the first three that you unlock, ensuring that even if you’re not paying any attention at all, you’re at least getting some benefit. It’s no coincidence either, then, that the first three artifacts are some of the best. The announcer, too, is loud and in your face, spelling things out to an almost annoying degree, but with a cartoonish delivery that is charming for all types of audiences. The action never slows down, and the colorful characters are a joy to watch.
Unfortunately, this positive first impression lasts only for a few hours thanks to its disappointingly shallow gameplay. Make no mistake, for the first couple of matches, Rocket Arena is surprisingly fun. The action moves fast thanks to quick characters and small maps, meaning you’re never out of the fight for very long. But after a few matches, the shallowness of its design starts to become obvious, and the enjoyment begins to fade. There’s just not much to the gameplay beyond what’s on the surface. There isn’t much opportunity for strategy, because none of the different characters really feel like they play off of each other.
"There’s just not much to the gameplay beyond what’s on the surface. There isn’t much opportunity for strategy, because none of the different characters really feel like they play off of each other."
It’s also alarming how quickly you realize that some characters are just better than others. Rocket Arena suffers from some frustrating balance issues, primarily in its character design. First of all, any characters with increased mobility, such as those that can fly or gain extra jumps, have an immediate advantage over the slower characters. This is a game that’s all about mobility, and faster characters have an innate advantage over the slower, tankier characters.
But even aside from that, some of the characters abilities make them noticeably more effective. The character of Topnotch, for example, has a jetpack that allows him to fly across the map. He can remain in the air pretty much indefinitely, making him a difficult target. Meanwhile, his two abilities are both explosives with a large area of effect, allowing him to blanket enemies with damage while remaining completely out of the fight. Meanwhile, one of my favorite characters was Kayi, who on the surface is a manoeuvrable sniper. But in practice, the game just moves too fast for a character like her, who is based around precise targeting, to really feel effective. Flaws like this stand out, and hamper an otherwise decently fun experience.
The core gameplay itself is fun, however. There are a variety of match types, including a team deathmatch mode, a treasure hunt mode, and a soccer-esque mode called Rocketball. Meanwhile, the combat mechanics don’t involve killing your enemies in a traditional sense. Instead, dealing damage to them fills up a meter, and when the meter is full your enemies are launched up into the air and off the map, at which point you score a point and they are returned to their spawn point. It’s a unique concept for a shooter, and feels more akin to Super Smash Bros than games like Overwatch. Still, once you get past the initial novelty of it, it doesn’t drastically change the way you approach the game. You still need to shoot your enemies just like normal. And when their meter is full, they will get launched off the map regardless of where they are or how far they have to fly, meaning you don’t really have to worry about positioning. You just aim and shoot like any other game.
"The core gameplay itself is fun, however. There are a variety of match types, including a team deathmatch mode, a treasure hunt mode, and a soccer-esque mode called Rocketball."
Rocket Arena has a certain innocent appeal to it that is charming. And for a few matches, that charm and creativity can be enough to carry the experience. But after a few matches, you realize that the game’s appeal can’t really extend past that initial positive impression. The repetitive gameplay and balance issues keep it from being a true contender in the crowded arena shooter genre. With that said, I don’t really think Rocket Arena is intending to do that. You might find yourself enjoying it as a fun time-waster for a few matches. It’s not going to dethrone Overwatch any time soon, and some players will grow disinterested fairly quickly.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.