I am a sucker for local multiplayer games, in fact, I was a huge proponent of Parsec gaming for its ability to allow me to host “LAN parties” online with my friends. Now, with Steam’s Remote Play Together, it’s all the easier to play today’s game with a full party. Rocket Wars is a multiplayer-focused, top-down, arena shooter that, at first glance, reminds me of a cross between Asteroids and Starwhal. Up to 4 players can play multiplayer free-for-all or team-based game modes. The game is simple, but the game modes are pretty fun, with easy-to-learn controls, and fast-paced battles. I had a lot of fun with this one, as it compares pretty well with games like Towerfall: Ascension and Lethal League. I think the lack of online multiplayer may be a turn-off for some, but my experience evoked my days of playing Mario Kart: Double Dash and Mario Party with my bros.
Rocket Wars has 5 game modes with team/free-for-all variants: First to 10 kills, survival, king-of-the-hill (AKA Bomb King), teams (Untethered: you’re stronger the closer to your teammate), and air hockey. Controls are pretty simple: a shield button to put up a deflector for a few seconds that can destroy trigger-happy foes with a well-timed parry, accelerate, rotate ship, and use powerup. The game supports two different ship movements: one that reminds me of Asteroids (tilt left or right to rotate your ship counter-clockwise or clockwise respectively), or your ship points towards the direction of your stick. I personally preferred the latter, but I can see classic arcade players gravitating towards the former. There is only one unique map per game mode from my understanding, but it’s pretty well balanced so can’t entirely fault it.
Every game mode shares the same pool of powerups, which provide ammo types for powerful weapons like a one-shot kill snipe shot, or homing missiles. In this way, the game is very explosive, although a well-timed shield can counteract every powerup, while a shield’s cooldown is just weighty enough to not make the option overpowered. There isn’t much to comment on about deathmatch or survival, as it’s pretty bog-standard, yet functional. Entangled is an interesting team deathmatch variant where the gimmick of staying huddled has its advantages and disadvantages (your freedom of movement is restricted, but you are weaker if you spread apart). I find Bomb King and Spaceball to be some of the most tense and varied gamemodes. Spaceball is interesting in that your path to victory becomes more challenging as you take out your opponent’s wall. Bomb King brings a sense of competitive truces since, as the bomb king, your stats are inflated to the point that trying to soloing this player tends to be a losing proposition (also the longer the king reigns, the harder it is to break its record to win the match). The final feature that helps mix up the gameplay are the variety of ships with perks and banes to different statistics (ie mobility, health, firerate). The fact that the 12 ship types are locked behind player progression can provide some staying power to the game, as unlocking them gives players the chance to organically learn the nuances of each one.
Rocket Wars is a fairly priced game that personally resonates stronger with me as a fan of couch multiplayer games. The relatively low skill floor for the title helps quickly introduce players into the action, and there’s just enough depth for players to feel like winning isn’t excessively decided via randomness. A few updates I would like to see would be different maps, a UI update to better visualize your current health, and some sort of horde mode (co-op available?) ala Geometry Wars to bring some single player content. Otherwise, props to the developers for creating a great core gameplay loop that’s very approachable and satisfying.
Rocket Wars was developed by Rooftop Panda
Available for $7.99 (PC, X1), $9.99 (Switch),.
A Switch copy was provided by the developer.
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