Some games are just plain brilliant. They offer a distraction that doesn’t feel like a waste of time, despite how many hours you feed it. And when you’re finished with a game like this, you are absolutely sated, not left wishing that it had done something more. Gamer or not, you play it and think, wow, this one got it right. It knows what I want more than I do. Forget socialising. This. Is. It.
Games like this don’t come along all the time, but when they do, aw man, is it a treat.
An example of a game that gets it right is MaiMai by Sega, an arcade rhythm game currently unavailable in Europe and most of the US. (Apparently it is being tested in the latter, however.) It has a simple goal – to make you excitedly tap buttons to a beat – and it meets that goal with such aplomb that arcade-goers queue for it while other nearby rhythm games remain unused. The more extreme MaiMai-ers even wear special gloves to protect their hands from the assault as they play all night to perfect their scores. It is exciting, well designed and it gives and gives and gives. (Literally. It continually gains new songs so that you can go back and find more tunes to play all the time.) If I could own one of these for myself, then I wouldn’t need friends – although it can be played in multiplayer, of course, so maybe companions are a plus?
An example of a game that almost gets it right, on the other hand, is Rocket League. This is game where you act as a car and you play soccer against other cars. It sounds stupid. But it rocks so hard. You race around crashing into a giant soccer ball, trying to knock it into the opponents’ goal, and when that fails you blast into the other players, instead, blowing them to smithereens. Awesome.
Rocket League asks you to think closely about all three dimensions. You don’t just play on the ground. You use the walls and you use the sky. If you aim the ball at the wall it will smack it and fly off at an angle. You have to think ahead and use angles to aim the ball at the opponent’s goal, instead of just rolling through the centre of the pitch, if you want to get goals past the better defenders in the game. Moreover, when the ball comes at your goal in this way, you have to learn how to wait, wait, wait for the perfect moment, then jump and block it in midair, which is a really difficult feat to pull off sometimes. All of this makes it a good, good game. Rocket League demands that you use your head at the same time as using quick reactions, and for that it should be applauded.
The online multiplayer is tight, by the way. It’s so much fun and it works so well.
With all of this in mind, then, why doesn’t Rocket League get it right? What’s stopping it from being perfect? Why am I left wishing that it would give me more?
Well, the AI sucks. If, like me, you haven’t paid for an online service yet, then all you can do is play local multiplayer and fill the rest of the teams up with AI units. The AI goes from being perfectly capable, to insatiably humping the wall inside of their, or your, goal, leaving their team one horny member down.
Just yesterday, I played a match and watched in awe as all three members of the opposing team guided the ball from the centre of the pitch all the way into their own goal, protecting it in a triangle formation so that I wouldn’t have been able to save them from themselves if I had tried. They wanted that own goal, dammit, and they were going to get it.
This kind of behaviour is frustrating because, if the AI’s on your team start acting up like this, you grind your teeth and yell obscenities at the screen, and then you get shouted at by whoever else in the living room for being rude and letting a game rile you up.
Damn it, game! Always getting me into trouble!
Rocket League nearly got it right. The online game works totally fine. But if it is going to have a offline mode at all, then that has to be totally fine, too. If it can’t do that, then it hasn’t succeeded.
I still really like it, though.