I’m not a huge fan of soccer (or futbol if you want to be annoying). The pitch is too big, making the game slow and plodding at times, and at 90 minutes plus injury time, each match becomes an exercise in patience. I mean, just look at it:
By extension, soccer games just didn’t do it for me. Offside rules killed the flow in video game soccer, and even FIFA Street, which was kinda cool, seemed a bit too complicated when all I really wanted to do was kick a ball into a goal. What I wanted was a soccer version of NBA JAM.
And then Rocket League came into my life, and introduced a soccer so fun and captivating that I spent over three friggin’ hours of my late night/early morning playing the damn thing. Hell, I’d rather be playing than writing right now. This glorious amalgamation of soccer and destruction derby is what we’ve been looking for. Except it’s been around already…
On the surface, it shouldn’t be this good – and that’s not a knock on the developers, Psyonix. It’s a testament to how game design can make or break a game. The idea behind Rocket League isn’t even that novel, and it looks like a game that could’ve been released as a mini-game in Mario Party. Hell, people have been playing soccar for years. I mean, look at this shit from the SNES days:
Hell, this isn’t even Psyonix’s first kick at the soccar ball. They did this years ago with SARPBC (Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle Cars), which looks eerily familiar:
The clip above actually shows just how close they got to getting it right. The developers already had the makings of decent game five years ago on the PS3.
More recently, Nintendo announced Metroid Prime: Blast Ball, a minigame that is part of the Metroid Federation Force for the 3DS. It’s not necessarily car soccer, and more of laser gun soccer… and you’ll see just why it hasn’t really fared too well with critics and gamers:
All of this just goes to show how timely marketing (Psyonix’s decision to partner with Sony’s PS+ service to offer the game for free will pay dividends in the future) and positive critical reception can do wonders for games.
But in the end, the game stands on its own merits thanks to a couple of factors:
Speed: The game is fast paced and short, with each match limited to 5 minutes (plus overtime if necessary) – so even if you’re losing a lopsided match, you’re not stuck with playing for very long. And the game just runs well, with very few hiccups, which is expected considering it looks like a spitting image of its predecessor SARPBC.
Controls: The controls are tight and forgiving, but controlling your car isn’t perfect – which makes the game so chaotic. It’s the same reason why Gears of War is endearing too. There’s a sense that people can become great, but not entirely proficient in the game.
Predictable Unpredictability: While the game itself is simple, and the cars themselves offer no strategic advantage, each match is different and unique. The angles that the ball bounce off are generally fixed, and yet tiny variations in speed and spin can yield varying results. You can bump other cars, destroy other cars, and the chance of lucky shots going in is pretty high. It’s poetic chaos.
And maybe that’s why we love this little game so much. It’s perfectly executed in an imperfect way. A truly beautiful game.