Contributed by: Sean Fenlon
Hey there, e-sports fans – friendly neighbourhood VR Guide Sean here, with a few words about why I’m such a big fan of Smashbox: Arena. If you follow The VR Hut on Facebook, you may already have had a taste of what gets me going about this game from my little staff intro post a while back. But a couple of hundred words is hardly enough space to adequately express even a fraction of the infinite subtleties of this most beautiful of (virtual) games (sorry, soccer). So settle in and get ready to hear (OK, read) more than you knew you wanted to about why one of my favourite VR titles could (should?) be your new favourite VR title. But first – story time!
My first foray into the world of Dodgeball.
When I was in elementary school, dodgeball was one of my favourite gym class games. You can keep your soccer, and your baseball, and yes, even your soccer-baseball (which is admittedly another solid school-time sport) – I’ll drown my fellow fourth graders in a sea of slightly textured red rubber, thanks. I don’t know why the game appealed to me so much, why it’s stuck in my psyche for more than twenty years now (although the omnipresent reminder of the 5 D’s provided by the classic Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller vehicle Dodgeball likely hasn’t hurt in that regard). I mean, it’s not like I was especially good at it or anything.
Maybe it was dodgeball’s slightly more egalitarian nature that drew me in, at least relative to other kid’s sports and games – sure, there’s running involved, and throwing a ball, but that doesn’t necessarily mean little Timmy’s going to be a ringer just because he can hit a home run or kick a field goal. Dodgeball has room for different types of kids, different types of players, to excel. Or maybe it’s the binary nature of dodgeball’s scoring system that I like, by which I mean that the worst you can do is lose and the best you can do is win. If you get blown out, it just means a faster restart; when one team’s eliminated, you simply reshuffle the teams and play again.
Contrast this with a more traditional scoring sport like hockey or baseball, where you could conceivably lose by ten or twelve (or more) to nothing, and perhaps you can begin to see the appeal to someone who’s into the fun of sport rather than the cutthroat competition. I know I wasn’t the only kid in my class growing up to be pleased as punch whenever we got to break out those red rubber balls in the gym.
Dodgeball has come a long way.
Now I’m in my thirties, and while I could of course join an actual dodgeball league (that’s right, they exist) I feel that a) I’m still not really any good at dodgeball (like I said), and b) even a recreational league would probably be more competitive than I would want (and I should know – some of my friends and I play floor hockey in town with the KSSC). But there’s something about the anonymity of online play, combined with the option of solo play or training “against the computer”, that makes Smashbox just the right speed for a more casual competitor like me.
Then there’s the fun cartoon aesthetic, and the wild variety of power-ups and special weapons made possible by the game’s virtual format – why not bring a giant boulder to a dodgeball fight? This certainly ain’t your daddy’s Call of Duty. And, of course, there are different game modes – maybe you’ll enjoy the ‘king-of-the-hill’-flavoured Capture mode even if you’re not into the standard elimination gameplay of Classic mode.
My favourite part of the game: the difficulty curve. Like any great game, Smashbox is pretty simple to learn, but that simplicity belies its deeper tactical possibilities. Sure, you can dodge, catch, and deflect balls, just like in good ol’ physical dodgeball, but each of those snazzy power-ups I was just mentioning also has some kind of limitation, or can be countered in some way.
Even the movement constraint that you can’t use a hand to teleport if you’re carrying an item with that hand can be worked with or around, if your timing’s good and you can think a step or two ahead of where you are right now. Unlike a lot of first-person shooter-type games, there’s just as high a premium put on thought here as on reflexes. Smashbox is most definitely a game that, as I love saying, is easy to pick up and learn, but tough to master.
A friendly community willing to help
All of this adds up to a super fun multiplayer team experience with much of the competitive speed and flavour of an online FPS and a lot less of the negativity and griefing that can be so prevalent in many online communities, both in and out of gaming. So if you’re ever teleporting your way around the Arena, and you come across somebody from The VR Hut wondering why nobody’s joining his game of Capture mode, stop by and say hi – I promise you’ll be glad you did, and you have my permission to crush me with a giant virtual boulder if I’m wrong.