‘Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball’ may be pretty long-winded title but it sums up the game pretty well: robots in a disco arena playing dodgeball – or a form of it at least. (The roller-derby part is on shakier ground, but the robots are on wheels I suppose). However as convoluted as the title is the nature of the gameplay itself is delightfully straightforward, developer Erik Asmussen clearly aspiring to create a back to basics shooter that can appeal to anyone.
Gamers overwhelmed by the fast-paced Modern Warfare and sprawling environments of Battlefield can feel safe in dipping their toes into the water of Robot Dodgeball. Following a brief tutorial it’s possible to drop straight into a quick match mutliplayer game and not feel out of your depth – with the only weapons being a number of glowing dodgeballs bouncing around the arena and with one-shot kills a rookie can quite easily take out a veteran straight away.
Unlike other arena shooters there are no health bars (one hit from a dodgeball is all it takes) and dodgeballs are the only weapon in your arsenal – it really is that simple. Only one dodgeball can be held at a time but you’ll rarely without a target to aim at as arenas are fairly devoid of cover. Actually hitting your targets is another matter though as everyone zips about trying to pick up a dodgeball of their own, although even though a poorly aimed-shot can achieve a lucky kill. It’s also possible to take out an enemy by catching a thrown dodgeball although it’s very tricky – and you’re obviously dead if you mistime it – but a lifeline if an enemy robot is bearing down on you and you can’t find a dodgeball of your own.
The streamlined gameplay isn’t the only thing to stand out here as the Tron-inspired arenas are eye-catching and look great in motion. Bright neon lights contrast against black backgrounds and robots also come in a variety of distinct colours (or just blue and red in team matches). The lights also pulse in time to the disco music which is a nice touch. The robots themselves are fairly basic in appearance as they’re just essentially a cartoon face on a box balanced atop a single wheel – think Roise the robotic maid from the old Jetsons cartoon and you’re halfway there. It’s possibly to customise your robot’s face with different expressions and the addition of comedy glasses but the graphical options are fairly limited to be honest.
The controls are another simple aspect and will be familiar to anyone who’s played a mutliplayer shooter before – however the pace is a little slower than twitch-based shooters of old like Quake and Unreal and your robot does tend to handle like a shopping trolley at times and drifts in a way that takes a while to get used to. The vehicular nature is also emphasised with the addition of a boost button as well as a brake and skid options, but apart from the boost feature these fairly redundant. Another odd control quirk is the fact that the jump has to be charged up and is activated when you let go which doesn’t feel intuitive at all.
Shooting also remains fairly difficult even after you’ve been playing for a while, although this is the point and prevents experienced players from dominating. A number of power-ups such as boomerang balls, big balls (don’t laugh) and a limited homing feature do help to some extent but the majority of kills result from getting as close to your enemy as possible do you don’t miss – or by launching a ball across the arena and hoping for the best.
A number of single-player modes do exist which can be fun in short bursts but multiplayer is clearly the main focus of the game here and it certainly does have a great ‘pick up and play’ quality. It’s possible to drop straight into a match and enjoy yourself, particularly in team deathmatches – although the outright chaos of a free-for-all game never gets old. Capture the Flag mode doesn’t quite gel however and I personally didn’t enjoy Super Ball (essentially keepaway) or Score Battle (points for trickshot-kills) modes. Grand Prix (races) and Hoops (violent basketball) are more interesting
Despite being an indie title there seems to be a healthy amount of human players online at any time, and the community is exceptionally friendly. Even on occasions where there aren’t enough human players the AI bots do a fine job of filling in – due to the simple and chaotic nature of the gameplay it’s actually unlikely you’d notice if bots were even playing until a round ends and the results are displayed.
Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball certainly does a lot right and is a hearty antidote for those jaded by modern multiplayer shooters. In short bursts it’s a joy to play, as long as you don’t get too frustrated by the slightly unusual controls or the intentional difficulty of hitting opponents, but it can get repetitive as there isn’t a great deal of variety. Additionally the single-player is, as expected, very limited and even several of the multiplayer modes never quite gel. However it’s definitely a title I’d recommend to everyone to at least try out – you can’t say hitting a robot in the face with a dodgeball isn’t fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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