Rocket Arena is the latest game from Nexon and its inspirations are obvious. A first glimpse at the name brought back fond memories of long nights rocket jumping in Quake, quickly traveling across the map, leaping with unmatched poise and getting back into the fight in the blink of an eye.
But Quake isn’t the only source of inspiration for this hero shooter. Rocket Arena has a visual style that seems to channel both Blizzard’s Overwatch and Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins. The comparisons are inevitable, but Rocket Arena has a confident style and visual substance that makes it difficult to dislike.
I couldn’t help but smile when I first saw the Rocket Arena characters. What a cheerful and colorful bunch that Final Strike Games designed for its 3v3 arena first-person shooter. It’s like they jumped out of the best Saturday morning cartoons for a quick and unpretentious brawl. A quick “Smash” brawl.
All the Bros Were Smashing
In Rocket Arena, your goal isn’t to drain your opponent’s health bar. After all, everyone is using non-lethal rockets, if such a thing is even plausible. Instead of a health bar you have a Blast Meter and when you take significant hits you are “Megablasted” out of the arena, only to slowly float back down again and reenter the fight. Evidently, this makes you lose precious seconds and your team is weakened during this process.
It’s a mechanic that seems lifted from Super Smash Bros. or Brawlhalla. At this stage I can’t say for sure if it fits the gameplay, as the closed beta feels somewhat unbalanced and in need of further testing. I’d be hard-pressed to choose between this and a traditional health bar, as I don’t think that the Blast Meter adds anything worthwhile to the matches, feeling like a glorified respawn period that gets on your nerves as your hero slowly floats back into a random location.
The rocket jumping aspect needs more work, as it feels unfitting. For a game that is pretty much selling itself on this gimmick, there is a long way to go before it feels satisfactory and worthy of comparison to the mighty Quake series. The main problem with it is the strange physics system or lack thereof, with no proper correlation between the angle of your shot and the way that you are thrusted in the air. Most of the times you’ll simply be propelled upwards, even when you are aiming at a wall, something that should give you a boost and shoot you backwards across the map.
It’s also odd that other players seem unaffected by the rocket impacts. As Quake has so deftly proved, skilled players can easily come up with amazing strategies that add layer after layer of strategy to a seemingly simple gameplay premise, so long as they are provided with the right tools. This would ramp up the gameplay of Rocket Arena, but right now it lacks that spark that would improve its competitive potential.
Rocket Arena has an interesting take on verticality and the ability to take the fights airborne. The maps are small but aptly designed, but to explore their full potential you will need a fully functioning rocket jump mechanic. You also have a double and triple jump which regrettably turn the game into a clay pigeon shooting gallery of sorts, as you try your best to hit those annoying jumping players from afar. Rocket Arena would surely gain from a more restrained jump feature and a focus on ground-based gameplay, as the matches are almost entirely spent airborne and may end up getting on your nerves.
I don’t mean to sound too jaded or overly critical of Rocket Arena as I understand that it is still in active development and welcoming player feedback. It is an occasionally fun game and it’s obvious that a lot of work went into making it look great and play decently, but I wish some of the issues above were fixed if it wants to stand a chance against other hero shooters. This is the time to do it, to balance the characters properly – a couple of them feel utterly overpowered – and adjust those physics. This could make or break the game.
Easy Like Saturday Morning
It’s not entirely fair to label Rocket Arena’s visuals as childish; this game is only as childish as a Toy Story movie can be, a Disney movie or some of the best Saturday morning cartoons. The flamboyant and jubilant art style isn’t there to be enjoyed solely by kids, as a keen adult eye will promptly notice the talented design and attention to detail that permeates Rocket Arena.
There are currently six characters available in Rocket Arena, and they are a wide-ranging bunch, both in looks and abilities. Amphora is a cute fighter with an underwater penchant that would make Aquaman proud; Blastbeard is a larger-than-life pirate that carries a massive cannon; Kayi is the Disney princess Elsa in everything but name and looks, sporting ice powers and hailing from the snowy Icefall Keep; Izell is a fearless jungle warrior; Plink is a creative kid and wannabee Inspector Gadget; finally, Jayto is the brash returning champion and acts as the poster boy for the game. Each character comes with their own loadout, with specific strengths and an ultimate ability, and soon you will begin to find a favorite or two among them.
In a nice touch, each contender comes from their own region, corresponding to one map per character, at least so far. It’s easy to see that Kayi comes from the lovely snow-covered Icefall Keep, a kingdom that wouldn’t be out of place in Frozen. Blastbeard has his own pirate-themed Crater’s Edge map, with lovely waterfalls and a shine to the whole thing that turns it into one of my favorite maps visually speaking. Izell naturally comes from Gemstone Jungle, a place filled with ancient temples and a distinct Mayan vibe. I won’t go through the remaining three maps, but each one of them has an inherent style that perfectly suits the respective character – well, maybe except for Plink, who seems at odds with a dino excavation site set in a desert.
Despite their small size, these maps are expertly designed and have enough elements as to feel unique and entertaining. As I’ve mentioned before, verticality plays an important role, for better and for worse, so you must get used to it if you want to succeed.
You level up each character independently, unlocking rewards such as alternative outfits, trails and artifacts, which provide buffs to certain characters. Extra damage while on the ground for Plink, gaining full health after knocking out an opponent for Amphora, or gaining a short speed bust after a rocket jump for Izell, among others.
As for game modes, there are three PvP modes available and one cooperative mode that pits players against waves of AI-controlled Rocketbots. Knockout is your basic team deathmatch, except that no one actually “dies” in this game, instead being thrusted into the skies and out of the arena. Each player has three badges, nine in total for each team, and when a team is out of badges, the match is lost. Megarocket is about territory control, with rockets falling from the sky and teams having to hold possession for a few seconds until a point is conquered. Rocketball tries to bring a sports twist to Rocket Arena, and you can toss the ball or carry it with you, something that is utterly not advised unless you have a well-oiled team by your side. Currently it feels somewhat frustrating – possibly a matter of easy to learn and hard to master, as I’ve witnessed some players flawlessly scoring goal after goal.
A Promising Start but Not Quite Ready for Lift-Off
My time with Rocket Arena so far has been both fun and frustrating in equal measure. I can clearly see the potential of a game that may give the misleading impression of being aimed at children, but don’t dismiss it on that basis alone; Fortnite isn’t exclusively targeted at adults either and yet it is played by different age groups. It is a long way off from the likes of Quake or Overwatch, with the physics in need of a serious redesign. The characters also feel slightly unbalanced, with occasions where you are blasted out of the arena in a couple of seconds because you looked at someone in a funny way… or because Izell, for example, seems overpowered.
Rocket Arena has an announcer to lend the matches a feeling of spectacle and he mostly delivers. The problem with this is the usual repetitiveness that quickly sinks in, as he seems content in announcing the important events such as goals or badges taken, without any extra flair or funny one-liners.
Despite its flaws and shortcomings, I had fun with Rocket Arena when I switched off my brain and kept my expectations under check. I couldn’t possibly hope for it to play anything like its inspirations at this stage, but it’s impossible to dislike its accomplished art style, cool characters and interesting maps. If all of the issues are suitably addressed, Rocket Arena could end up being a blast. A Megablast, in fact.