By Evan Norris 15th Nov 2019 | 2,005 views
Rocket Wars is basically an arena multiplayer variant of Asteroids. It shares the seminal arcade game’s simple space aesthetic and momentum-based controls, and adds to them wild power-ups, several entertaining—albeit similar—modes, and support for four-player multiplayer. It’s a decent, approachable PvP party game that provides shorts bursts of frenetic fun but lacks the depth and replayability to rank among the genre’s best.
A party game at heart, Rocket Wars provides the tools necessary for a fun Saturday night: understandable goals, accessible controls, and several different modes, ships, and skins. Controls are straightforward and simple. The left stick turns your ship; ZL controls thrust; B is your basic attack; Y deploys weapon pickups; and A engages a temporary shield. Moving around each 2D outer space map is a little slippery—this is not the kind of game where you can stop on a dime—but after a while you’ll learn how to use momentum to initiate and anticipate attacks.
In general, the point of Rocket Wars is to destroy your enemies in ship-to-ship combat in deep space, on a smallish map with a sun in the middle. The circular map defines the borders of the map—try to push outside and the game will bounce you back toward the center—and the sun organizes and redirects the four-player chaos within (collide with it too many times and you'll lose a life; it's a literal death star). This simple setup works well, at least in short sessions. With only one map and a shortage of strategic options, however, the game struggles to excel on only its core gameplay loop.
Thankfully, Rocket Wars offers up several modes and an entertaining collection of power-ups that make the title more attractive. In addition to free-for-all and team-based standards like Deathmatch and Survivor, the game hosts Nuke King, Space Ball, and a twist on Team Deathmatch called Entangled.
Nuke King, akin to Defender in Call of Duty or Oddball in Halo, assigns a Nuke King at the beginning of the match. You earn points by surviving as the King, and you become the new King by killing the current one. Since the Nuke King is overpowered, former rivals must team up to take it down—and then, of course, immediately turn on each other. Space Ball is almost like a riff on Pong or Arkanoid, where you push a ball into the enemy's goal to win. Finally, Entangled, the weirdest of the bunch, takes multiplayer alliances to another level, as each team will grow in strength as they get nearer each other. Unfortunately, you can't change the presets on any of these modes; in free-for-all Survivor, for example, all players start off with five lives, no matter what.
Every match played in these modes comes with an assortment of power-ups, which can quickly turn defeat into victory, and vice versa. There are mines, laser beams, a sniper shot, a shotgun blast, a rapid-fire machine gun, and even a circular saw blade. There are also 12 unlockable ships (and ship skins) that add a tactical layer to the action. Do you go for the all-around X-11 Fighter, or sacrifice regen for handling with the Dragonfly? At the end of each match you'll receive awards based on your playstyle—"Aggressive" for most damage dealt, for example, and "Greedy" for most power-ups.
If you don't have friends available for some couch multiplayer mayhem, Rocket Wars graciously provides AI bots, which you can program to easy, medium, or hard difficulty. The game is best experienced with others, but the addition of bots makes this space shooter a completely viable option while playing solo. Note that there are no online options in Rocket Wars.
Rocket Wars has a simple, streamlined aesthetic that doesn't jump off the screen but does maintain clarity in the middle of the busiest dogfight. It's more utilitarian than anything else. The original soundtrack by Christian Mejlænder Krogsvold, AKA Waterflame, is a mix of electronic dance music and techno that works well with the game's hectic action but tends to overstay its welcome during extended sessions.
In the end, that might be Rocket Wars' biggest drawback—it's not built for long bouts. Controls are solid, power-ups are exciting, and a variety of modes add some much-needed diversity, but the game in general doesn't provide enough incentive to keep players coming back again and again. It's more than fine for a few gaming get-togethers, but with limited customization options, only a single map, and relatively simple mechanics it doesn't achieve the depth needed for repeat sessions.