If you’ve ever played dodgeball you’ll be right at home with Smashbox Arena, with BigBox VR’s multiplayer shooter almost playing exactly the same. It’s three on three combat with the aim of the game being to eliminate your rival players by smashing them with a ball. Once you’ve eliminated all of your opposing players you earn a point, with the first team to earn five points being deemed the winner. There are added complications though, with players able to catch any balls coming their way or alternatively smashing them away with the ball they’re holding. It’s all simple stuff, but it works incredibly well in virtual reality – plus, it all feels incredibly natural thanks to the compulsory Move controllers.
To spice things up, Smashbox Arena features a variety of zany weapons that you can use to gain the upper hand over your opponent. You could throw a grenade for example that eliminates anyone in its explosive vicinity, or even a heat-seeking missile that’ll seek out the nearest opposing character. Alternatively, you’ve got a giant rolling ball that can smash through any opponent who gets in its way, and even a shield that can be used to defend yourself from incoming fire. The variety of weapons on offer is great and ensures you’re always kept on your toes; it’s all well and good to dodge a ball coming your way, but what about a huge boulder?! Smashbox Arena can quickly turn into a bit of a ping-pong match when you and an opponent are throwing balls back at each other, so the addition of these special weapons keeps the action both varied and fun.
It’s not just throwing balls around the arena that you’ve got to worry about though, with your movement and position in-game playing a vital roll. Following the trend of other first person titles in virtual reality, you move around by teleporting. You can throw out a small teleportation device that’ll transport you to wherever it lands. This has a bit of a tactical edge too, since you don’t teleport instantly – there have been so many times that I’ve been caught out by an incoming ball when I thought my teleporter would send me to safety, but sometimes it just wasn’t quick enough.
Alternatively, you can use the sight of an enemy’s teleportation device to your advantage – if you see one land, you can quickly throw a ball that way knowing an enemy is going to appear soon. It’s a bit cheap, but it’s a satisfying way to take out your foes. Be aware though: even though you can carry two balls or weapons at a time, you can only teleport if you’ve got a hand free. It’s all well and good stocking yourself up with both a ball and a sniper rifle (and yes, it’s as cool as it sound to use both), but it’ll leave you stuck in one spot and open to enemy attacks from all directions. Smashbox Arena can be a surprisingly tactical affair that requires both offensive and defensive thought.
Each of the game’s arenas are well designed and offer plenty of variety too, both in their layout and visual style. You’ll be fighting across construction sites, forest forts, and space stations just to name a few, with each arena featuring a simple yet attractive design. They also go across multiple layers, sending you both above and below your opponent; there’s a ton of different ways to approach each arena, with loads of locations for you to hide away or take cover in. Your positional play is vital in Smashbox Arena and can be the difference between winning a round or getting eliminated almost immediately. Thankfully the level design is solid and offers enough variety so that you won’t tire of them quickly.
Whilst Smashbox Arena is a lot of fun to play through, a lot of its success will boil down to how much of an online community it has. It’s early days yet, but it hasn’t exactly been thriving so far; I’ve been able to get into matches with other players, but often with a few bots included. Whilst the bots are competent, it’s not the same as taking on real human players. If the developers keep the game updated with maps and new weapons, Smashbox Arena could prove to be Playstation VR’s killer multiplayer app – as long as people are playing it.
I’ve played a fair bit of the game with friends though and it’s definitely a hell of a lot of fun. One feature in particular that I really liked was how you could watch the action unfold right in front of you on an interactive map when you’re eliminated from a game. You can see your opponents and allies fighting it out, all whilst dishing out instructions as to where an enemy might be hiding or if they’re sneaking up on your friends. It was a nice interactive feature that ensured you stayed a part of the battle even if you were eliminated.
Another nice touch I could appreciate was that the winning team would be put on a podium to gloat in front of the losers at the end. Whilst this isn’t unknown in a competitive video game, being able to use the Move controllers to goad, make gestures, or shoot confetti at your opponents was incredibly satisfying. It’s a small touch, but something that was so fun (and maybe a bit childish). Being on the receiving end of it though? Not so much…
Whilst I’ve played through a lot of Smashbox Arena with minimal fuss, I have come across a few instances where the game completely bugged out. One time the timer for a match ended but the game didn’t, with any remaining players ending up becoming invincible. Another time the next map wouldn’t load at the end of a match, forcing all players to quit out to continue playing. Whilst there was nothing particularly game-breaking, it could break up the flow of things and was pretty frustrating when you managed to find a match full of human players. There are certainly a few issues in the game that need ironing out.
The same goes for the AI opponents, which could be a bit of a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong, I was a part of plenty of intense matches against AI bots, but every now and then they’d do something incredibly dumb. There were a few times where they simply wouldn’t attack, whilst other times they’d get stuck in the environment and become an easy target for you. It’s all small stuff, but when waiting for human players to join it could become a bit less fun when your opponents were so easy to beat.
Outside of the multiplayer modes you’ve also got a single player campaign to play through, though it’s nothing special; it’s just a series of matches against bots with no real story on offer. You do get to unlock new characters by playing through it, but that’s all cosmetic. The most enjoyable aspect of Smashbox Arena is within its multiplayer modes, so I’d recommend that being where you spend most of your time.
Smashbox Arena offers incredibly fun multiplayer action, with its dodgeball antics proving to be a blast to play in virtual reality. Wiping out your opponents with a mixture of balls and brutal weapons was really satisfying, whilst the interactive moments in between matches where you could goad opposing players was a bit of a guilty pleasure. You’re just guaranteed to have a good time – even if it does have a fair few bugs that need ironing out.
The only concern I have is whether or not the game will have a thriving community or not. If people keep playing the game, I could see myself hooked to Smashbox Arena for a long, long time. If not though, I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with it. For now though, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and most certainly the most enjoyable multiplayer experience I’ve had in Playstation VR.
Developer: BigBox VR
Release Date: 25/07/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift