There comes a time in the history of humanity where a sport evolves to take its place among the common and lauded activities of the world. Soccer came from the ancient Mayans (probably), golf is hundreds of years old out of Scotland (that one seems right) and basketball, only about a hundred years old, came straight out of Massachusetts. So we can see the best and the brightest enjoy and work on games that are still relatively new in the eyes of the universe. And now, the Nintendo Switch can join in on the most competitive and addicting sport of the last five years: Rocket League.
For the uninitiated, Rocket League is what happens when you decide to play soccer with a car. And I don’t mean running over a soccer ball with your Honda Accord, I mean a massive, metallic ball the size of an Indiana Jones boulder, and you ram into it with your armor plated rocket mobile. The car can activate rocket boosters, jump and flip and generally defy the common laws of sense and physics in order to propel the ball to where you theoretically want it to go. Played in games of one, two or three member teams, the winners often just have to have the high score when the time runs out, although there are modes to set a goal cap or other target.
Now, Rocket League is by no means a new game; having been around for a couple years now, the wonder game of Psyonix has graced Steam, PS4 and XBox One, all in turn, and the addiction is real. But putting it on the Nintendo Switch is some next level stuff, because, for the first time ever, players have the ability to enjoy, practice and, theoretically, compete on a semi-mobile basis. I use the word semi because you will need an internet connection to participate in online matches, and any competitive play strictly exists on the internet. Even still, this provides a golden opportunity for players to actually take time and get significantly better when away from home. And trust me: if you’re new to Rocket League, you’re gonna want those opportunities.
Let’s break it down for a moment for new players, shall we? First and foremost, the idea that you’ll be able to fully control your car is pretty insane out the gate. You have the basics – steering, brake, gas and reverse – but you never think about those things clearly when you’re driving at full speed down a soccer pitch after a ball the size of a large van. You won’t suffer damage from crashing into other players, but you can alter their course and they can alter yours. One of the craziest parts of playing Rocket League initially is how damn good other people are going to appear. Please keep in mind that Microsoft decided to play nice and approved of cross play against XBox One users, which is both great and terrible because, holy crap, XB1 players have had a bit longer to test things out and get better at this game. This might discourage new players, but I encourage you to continue on if you’re at all interested in playing, because, believe it or not, this turns into a seriously fun experience.
Why? Because Rocket League can be consumed in either bite-sized portions or in giant buffet style feasts. There is never, at any hour, any shortage of players right now. I had zero issues finding matches at 2 AM on Steam, and I’m expecting to continue my streak of “six seconds of waiting” on the Switch. A match generally takes about five minutes, give or take for goal replays, and you can’t stop the onslaught of the game. Once the match is done and you’ve more than likely taken a beating, the game tells you what you’ve unlocked through your failure, how poorly you did and then asks you if you’re ready for another round of humiliation. And you remember that you did have a pretty good jump flip during the last match. And you came crazy close to getting your first goal because you threw on reverse at the wrong moment and actually went to where the ball was (like Gretzky!). Checking the clock, you realize you’ve still got another half hour until you gotta leave for work, so, sure, one more match. Before you realize it, you’re late for work but it doesn’t matter because you actually scored a goal and unlocked a sweet Mario paintjob on your car and it feels AWESOME.
Some players are gonna complain about how Rocket League looks in undocked mode, and I guess the complaint is fair. When playing handheld, things can really look rough in terms of car models and the arena shading, but it’s not enough to make the game unplayable or even more difficult in terms of depth perception. PC players aren’t going to remember that their rig is a massive thing that takes on a constant, dedicated power source and generates enough heat to render their oil bill null in the winter. The Switch may not look spectacular when handheld, but it loads and plays crazy smooth, and, if you didn’t catch it the first time, you can actually play Rocket League on the go. This is a game that’s already started to develop a serious eSports following and has several tournaments, and now people are able to actually practice and get better on an individual level without needing to carry around a crazy heavy and expensive laptop. I’m not saying the Nintendo Switch is the be-all-end-all for gaming, but you gotta admit this is damn exciting.
Without meaning to take the wind out of the sails on things, I do have to comment that this is still Rocket League, at it’s core. This isn’t Mario or Zelda with cars (that’s called Mario Kart, remember?). It’s the unforgiving game you may or may not know, and playing it on the Switch isn’t going to magically make it better after not enjoying it on your computer or XB1. I’m concerned some people will pick this up after only hearing about it and maybe watching great matches and not realize how frigging hard it is to get even remotely good. Then they’re going to complain how bad it is without giving due credit to the fact that they are not very good at Rocket League themselves, and that’s ok. If you haven’t enjoyed Rocket League in the past, I’m afraid this isn’t going to change it. But if you’ve been hampered by not having enough time to practice or, like me, your PC was too ancient to actually do a decent job, then Psyonix has finally done the impossible and optimized a soccer game to a point where I want to keep playing it. Kudos, everyone. This is the big time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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