One Thing I Love Today: Is this the most addictive new game on XBox?
One Thing I Love Today is a daily column dedicated to putting a spotlight on some pop culture item worth your attention. After all, there's enough snark out there. Why not start every day with one quick shotgun blast of positivity?
As a father sharing custody of my children, one of the hardest things about the last year and a half has been getting used to my weekends without my kids. When they're here in my home with me, we have the best time together, and I think they're off to a great start in terms of dealing with the break-up of a family. When we have that time, I try to encourage as much play as possible, because so much of what you learn about how to deal with other people comes from the way you play with them. People reveal themselves in play without even realizing they're doing it, and they grow from it as well. Play is programmed into us, hard-wired, and fighting that is impossible.
My friend Aaron is a game fanatic, and when he tells me to pay attention to something, I listen. He recently sent me a quick message telling me that I was going to want to go ahead and buy something called Rocket League as soon as possible for the XBox One. It was reasonably priced enough that I bought it the same day, and then promptly forgot I owned it.
Then my kids came over this weekend, and Friday night, they turned on the game for the first time, and within a half-hour, it was apparent that, once again, Aaron is a genius, because Rocket League is a pure delight. Originally released through Steam and PlayStation 4 last July, the XBox One version came out on a few weeks ago, and it's evidently a sequel to a game I never heard of. Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars seems like an accurate title, but I'd argue that Rocket League is a wee bit snappier.
What you call it really doesn't matter, though, because Rocket League is pure unfettered fun. The easiest way to describe it is, "Soccer played with cars," but that doesn't really capture the sheer giddy lunacy of it. It's incredibly simple. There are two goals, one orange, one blue, and you can play either one-on-one games or team games. You're driving cars that can jump into the air at the push of a button, and you can drive up and around the various surfaces of each of the stadiums. There are extra powers and speed boosts and upgrades, and all of it is cheeky and silly and clearly dedicated to a single idea: fun.
I am certainly as guilty as anyone else of playing games that lean into an exaggeratedly dark and grim aesthetic, "Mature" games that are honestly just overcompensating in order to seem grown-up. At the core of it, though, what makes someone replay something is that charge that comes from playing something fun, and my kids found the game almost compulsively playable. I jumped into the rotation with the two of them, playing one-on-one, and it was clear that all three of us were playing at around the same skill level, each of us winning about the same number of overall games. That's not always the case, and it can be frustrating for my little boys. They're still developing their notions of sportsmanship, still learning how to be graceful in defeat as well as victory, and because we all racked up wins and losses in equal proportion, no one found themselves checking out completely or getting upset.
Easy to start playing but difficult to actually master, Rocket League is the kind of game that could help a younger video game studio like Psyonix blow up into something bigger, because I can see it offering up a ton of replay value. The physics of the game can be controlled through the fiendishly clever "mutator" system. You can screw around with things like how big the ball is, how quickly it moves, and gravity itself. The game is now recognized as an official eSport, and it looks like Psyonix is being very smart about the DLC, offering up recognizable skins like Back to the Future or the Batmobile. In fact, check this out…
It's one of the most immediately enjoyable things I've purchased since getting an XBox two years ago. While Toshi, my oldest son, enjoys playing games quite a bit, he's clearly a movie nerd like me, and given a choice between the two, watching a movie is always his first choice. Allen, though, is game-crazy, and has already told me that when he gets older, he wants to work the same job I have now, but with games. He's the one who picks up the skills more quickly than either Toshi or me, and I've seen Allen destroy adults in online games he's played. He's unstoppable once he figures something out, and it was obvious over the course of the weekend that he's already begun mastering certain tricks with the Rocket League controls. At the end of the weekend, he told me that Rocket League is now his second favorite game ever. It certainly led to some of the most entertaining time we've spent playing together in a while, and I suspect we'll see this turn into a major franchise for Psyonix, and a major addiction for players of all ages.
Rocket League is available now.
One Thing I Love Today appears here every day. Except when it doesn't.