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Rumbleverse (XS)

By Lee Mehr 13th Sep 2022 | 3,996 views 

Iron Galaxy's flashy entrance into the Battle Royale space quickly gets suplexed by a rushed release, soulless aesthetic, and mismanaged design.

Another day, another Battle Royale enters the fray.  I can hear the collective sighs already!  Although it's been done to death, a few developers have found some nuances or fun tweaks that've hollowed out a niche in this overstuffed market.  Taking a few cues since its days of sustaining the Killer Instinct franchise (namely Season 2 & 3), Iron Galaxy tries to defy expectations by exclusively emphasizing melee fights.  The only guns allowed are attached to your shoulders.  The question is: does Rumbleverse go down as a hero or a heel of this sub-genre?

You've been invited to brawl in the famed Grapital City.  Whether riding solo or as duos, a maximum of 40 players will be fired onto the map and battle it out until only one (or one team) remains standing.  How you go about pursuing that, whether by direct conflict or strategically scouring for more specialty items, will play a huge role in earning the gold prize.

This mechanical foundation seems sound at a glance.  There are various offensive and defensive options at your disposal: basic strikes, vicious grapples, elbow drops, blocks, dodges, dashes, throwing various items, scattered melee weapons, supers, learned special moves, and so on.  There are obvious checks and balances to consider, such as blocks stopping light strikes whilst heavier hits break through your shield.  Stamina also plays a vital role in staying alive; expending yourself to the point of temporary exhaustion makes you a sitting duck.

The battle royale ideals fuse as you'd expect: the ever-shrinking circle and randomized loot crates littered across the map.  These containers have a variety of potential rewards: chicken to regain some health, magazines to learn a special move (2 maximum), and potions that award a permanent 10% stat boost to your health, damage, or stamina; players can only gulp down 10 potions per match, so it's important to consider those pros and cons.  There's a palpable risk/reward dynamic early on in either rushing unsuspecting players for their loot or exploring any available acreage to bump your stats or horde precious foodstuffs for the tougher bouts ahead.  Hell, since every building is climbable, running away mid-fight is always a valid option. 

If this info dump suggests any unqualified praise, I ought to jam the brakes through the floorboard now.  Does it have enough going on to challenge your finger dexterity?  Admittedly, it does.  If you listened to someone like Joe Rogan listing out these various basic and special moves in real-time, it could sound pretty exciting.  But Rumbleverse has this unique ability to thoroughly vacuum so much fun around that otherwise decent foundation.

One of the first odd choices relates to its Battle Royale fundamentals: the shrinking ring.  Given the low body count and decent map size, you're only allotted half of Grapital from the start; in essence, the “pre-shrinkage” map size is the equivalent of the first or second condensed ring in something like Apex Legends.  Even if you enjoy the denser urban district - especially its greater verticality - you might be locked in the flatter suburbs thanks to the randomized selection.  It may seem like a benign complaint, but I can't recall any other example that constrains your means of early exploration like this. 

The issues don't ease up after landing either.  For starters, the lack of any formal tutorial to lay out the priority between attacks runs contrary to its intentions.  Granted, its informal one in Playground Mode is helpful, but it makes no sense why you have to traverse to various nodes just to absorb basic details, such as a move's power priority.  If you wish to run into human competition as quickly as possible, thus avoiding Playground, the main source of help is the default, unsightly UI polluting the screen.  It can't but feel like an early access title, and that wretched first impression quickly killed my friends' enthusiasm to continue.

Similarly, the fighting dynamics don't feel properly play-tested and evaluated.  Despite a commendable range of expressive inputs, many fights will wind back to turtling: hold block, wait for an opening, then utilize said window for a counter.  Should your opponent come with a heavy hit, leave your shell and light strike to cancel it.  There's so much upside to this tactic, especially since you still regain any lost stamina and (currently) take no chip damage, that it practically feels dirty.

It gets even dirtier when considering flagrantly inconsistent hit registration.  Punched from behind a concrete strut, kicked despite being at an elevated position, insane aerial hits that defy physics, and more annoyances consistently rear their ugly head.  Whether to blame on rough lag spikes or strictly on polish, I couldn't go more than two matches before more bullshit set me back.  This also extends to the obnoxious design around throwing objects and continually hitting tripped players.  While it has a standard aiming/throwing UI, you might as well quick throw and let the game's generous auto-lock do the rest at close or mid-range.  Whether in or against my favor, the underlying game systems (power priority, hitboxes, etc.) practically feel like they're lying to you.  It's tough to really soak up much fun when the fight currently feels rigged.

From gashes to paper cuts, the amount of multi-leveled errors saps so much enthusiasm after a few matches.  In some respects, I don't disagree with the notion of Rumbleverse's hidden depth.  I've been handed by a few nasty tricks now and again.  But the issue is how they're utilized.  Don't just concoct a bunch of moves without considering how they carefully blend together.  A panoply of disparate notes won't mean much without a good rhythm. 

Mismatched design worms its way into Rumbleverse's audio/visual qualities too.  Even before brawling, being greeted with a cartoony overweight Octavia Spencer testing the tear limits of her yoga pants made for a rough start.  Not the best choice for a default avatar.  Sadly, exaggerated body proportions ranks as one of the most noteworthy aesthetic decisions to an otherwise trite Fortnite-esque art design.  In order to compensate for that Xeroxed baseline, it relies on just being random for its own sake.  It's playing up the over-exaggerated wrestling staples, but in such uninspired ways that nothing leaves a real impact.

The one shared presentational quality that works comes back to combat.  The animations and aural feedback succinctly communicate the onscreen action.  Outside of that, it may as well be white noise.  An apt comparison would be against Knockout City.  While not perfect, at least that title's retro-futurist blend oozed personality.  It felt like you'd play some sci-fi dodgeball and then grab a cream soda served by a vintage roller-skating waitress.  When considering its visuals, basic soundtrack, and stale-bread announcer, Rumbleverse's character is nonexistent by comparison.

Perhaps its lacking personality and current content can be forgiven by its free-to-play status.  While a modestly varied topography, Grapital City is the only place you'll play across Solo, Duos, and Playground.  As previously suggested, that's not a hang-up for me until I consider the underwhelming world design.  As expected with an F2P title, the marketplace has an assortment of overvalued cosmetics; on the bright side, its virtually absent personality probably won't lure anyone to throw money towards the marketplace items or Battle Pass.

Rumbleverse might be this year's best case study of salvageable concepts suplexed by their execution.  Does it find space within the inundated Battle Royale market?  I'd say there’s a fair argument.  But the problem stems back to both surface-level and fundamental mismanagement.  Despite some notable updates that fixed early matchmaking errors and added slight quality-of-life improvements, it still feels like it was rushed out of Early Access.  That crucial issue, along with a lacking personality, makes Iron Galaxy's latest one of this year's biggest heels.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

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This review is based on a digital copy of Rumbleverse for the XS

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