There just aren’t enough arcade style games being released anymore. When I was younger, when my friends and I would get together to hang out, there would usually be some sort of co-op or versus game on the TV to test our skills against each other for a few laughs. A game like Rocket Wars is perfect for just that, and even manages some fun if you don’t have friends to play with locally.
Rocket Wars is a top-down space combat game that is visually reminiscent to Atari’s classic Asteroids. While it doesn’t use vector graphics, it uses simple geometric shapes that led to that retro visual style. And simple is great when you’re introducing a new game to people. But while Rocket Wars is super simple to pick up, it does take a little practice to get the hang of it.
Every round of Rocket Wars takes place in a circular arena with a star in the middle that acts as both a hazard and the only source of cover from the perpetual gun and rocket fire. The controls are simple: turn your ship, boost forward, shoot, and use any power-up you might have. And while it’s super simple to pick up, it’s not that easy to master.
Rocket Wars is an action game that can be played as four players battling in a free-for-all, or in two-versus-two teams. The goal, most of the time, is to shoot other ships while avoiding getting shot—and gathering power-ups. Like Asteroids, once you boost yourself in one direction, even if you turn in another direction inertia will keep your ship travelling in the direction you boosted—great for firing while moving backwards. Once you take damage, it doesn’t condemn you to death in another shot or so. Taking the cue from first-person shooters, your ship regenerates its health if you can avoid fire for long enough—another move that rewards skill.
It’s fun zipping along and shooting, but despite its simple controls, Rocket Wars has a learning curve. It takes some skill to be able to actually get your ship to do precisely what you want it to. But honestly, that’s part of the fun in most party games, and the chaos of the under skilled leads to many laughs.
Of course, if you find that you absolutely hate the controls of Rocket Wars, try a different ship. There are twelve different ship types to unlock—each with their own strengths and weaknesses,. Some ships even handle drastically different than others, while others fire more rapidly or have more health. There is always a trade-off, though. For the ship that fires more rapidly, you will have less health. More health means less maneuverability. Different ships are also better (or worse) suited for different game modes.
Where Rocket Wars really shines is its ten different game modes, of which it has ten, which includes the team variants: Deathmatch, Survivor, Nuke King, Space Ball, and Free Play. There are team variants of Deathmatch, Survivor, Nuke King and Space Ball, but with a different game mode added called “Entangled.” Deathmatch is self-explanatory: get the most kills to win. In Survivor, the last ship (or team) standing wins after depleting their opponent’s finite lives. Nuke King is interesting: as the Nuke King you are large, and more powerful. You become the Nuke King by killing the current Nuke King, and when the match ends, the Nuke King blows up, killing everyone for massive points. Space Ball is another favorite of mine, and the goal is to destroy you enemies’ goal areas while preventing the destruction of your own. It feels almost like Rocket League meets Asteroids. Free Play is a non-objective mode, while Entangled is an interesting team mode that requires you to be close to your teammate to be as powerful as possible—but with great power comes increased size. Besides Free Play (which we saw as a practice mode) each of the modes got equal rotation. They’re all very fun.
If you don’t have friends, or wonder if you can practice to hone your skills so you can crush your friends when they come around again, you can play solo with bots. Unfortunately, you can’t change the bot difficulty, and they are too easy once you get the basics down. But the bots can be useful for practice, or to fill out rosters if you don’t have four people around to play locally.
Since we played Rocket Wars exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, I should mention that it’s great to play docked or undocked. The simple shapes and color labels, though small, still make it completely viable to play. The more party games on the go, the better in my opinion.
We enjoyed Rocket Wars as a party game. And while it’s possible to play it solo, it just isn’t mechanically deep or satisfying enough to spend more time on it than to practice a few modes, or perhaps unlock a few ships. I enjoy Rocket Wars, and I’m sure we’ll be revisiting it from time-to-time.
Rocket Wars is available now on Windows, Android, Linux and Nintendo Switch
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