Jake’s best game of 2018 goes to….Rocket League? Really?
I hype all of these cerebral, retro-style games and decide my favorite game of the year ends up being a massively popular, 3 year old game that I already dropped a hundred hours on the PS4? Feels like kind of like a silly selection huh? One might even call it….a real U-turn. (Cue firing squad kicking down the door and lighting me up with mafiaso-era Tommy guns)
Regardless, Rocket League on the Switch has dominated my attention in a way a multiplayer game hasn’t since I lived in the dorms at JMU playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl. It would malpractice if I didn’t consider it’s reappearance in my life my favorite time spent with a game this year.
The concept of Rocket League can be explained in seconds: You team up with other players and play a game of soccer (or soccar) by smacking an oversized soccer ball around a field by driving into them with Hot Wheels-esque automobiles. The cars get a level of rocket boost which you can use to accelerate on the ground or soar through the air. Team with the most goals at the end of 5 minutes wins. Sure, there are other side modes and sports that are supported, but for the most part, that’s it. That’s the whole game
In the same way the Celeste makes you feel like a speed-runner, even bad-to-moderate level of play in Rocket League still lets you feel awesome. Even divorced from the gameplay, driving the cars up the walls and through the air feels so satisfying in a way that the best Nintendo games feel. Once you grapple with the basics, the skill ceiling in the game is so high that you always feel you are slightly improving your mobility options regarding double jumps or aerial flight. Regardless of your relative skill though, the simple fact remains: the first time you score a goal in this game is just as fun as the thousandth.
And, perhaps I’m getting soft, but I really like how Rocket League doesn’t involve combat? So many multiplayer games involve being a better shooter, or dominating someone in some way where it just feels kind of…rote? They were fun high-school and college when I could dedicate the time to mastering twitch-reflex games like Call of Duty or Gears of War, but as a dull-sensed adult whose distracted with a baby during most video game time, Rocket League is a lot more forgiving. Even if I’m whiffing most of my approaches, or letting shots sail past me into the goal as I tend to Fiona in the seat next to me, Rocket League is a game where I can contribute something to a team where the stakes are lower then “life and death”.
Rocket League is an old game though, and people already know how good the core gameplay is. What impresses me still about Rocket League in 2018 though is how well it’s been supported since launch.
The recently introduced concept of a “Season Pass” is fairly priced content pack that lets you earn a set of cosmetics that you see up front, eschewing away from the previous concept of random loot boxes that were dominant in the game. Even if you don’t pay the ten dollars every four months or so, you are still eligible to get free item drops via the pass or other Seasonal events. You earn EXP by playing each game that allow you to earn cosmetics for your car, and it’s a good carrot-and-stick mechanism that allows you to set little goals for yourself. It also makes losses sting a little less when you know you are being rewarded in some capacity for playing.
And something about cosmetics in this game just work. Between the myriad of paint jobs, decals, wheels and rocket trails, there is a really fun level of granular detail you can tweak your car’s look that scratches my brain in a way that is basically ASMR for me. Over the last 6 months there have been times I’ve wanted to engage with a video game without really having the mental capacity, due to being in a Fiona-onset sleep-deprived fugue state. My favorite thing to do in these cases was to go into the Rocket League garage and kit out my lineup of cars with the cosmetics I’ve earned while listening to the games goofy-hype EDM soundtrack.
What I ultimately love about Rocket League’s handling of multiplayer is how much it respects my time. Due to it’s low price point with console crossplay, the player count is consistently high and matchmaking is a couple-minutes process. This is something I find maddening about other online offerings on the Switch like Splatoon 2 and Smash Brothers Ultimate. While the games are very fun, the time to boot up the game and get into a multiplayer match just feels a smidge too long. Rocket League is perfect for when Fiona falls asleep for fifteen minutes or so and I can quickly sneak in a couple rounds before she grumpily wakes back up. This is another game where by the very nature of it being on the Switch makes it 1000% more appealing.
In conclusion: Rocket League is the gold standard for every “live” multiplayer game should be handled. It’s a game that lets anyone of any skill level feel like they can be competitive in and elevate their level of play. It respect everyone that plays it by offering quick jolts of fun and competition with manageable investments of time. As a new parent, these are all features of a minimally viable product for something I can enjoy at this stage of my life, and I’m happy to continue patronizing Rocket League both in 2018 and years down the line.
And now, since the stealth reason for this entire series of blogposts was to gloat about my mediocre Rocket League goals, here is my highlight reel: