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Disc Jam (PlayStation 4) artwork

Disc Jam (PlayStation 4) review


"Better on paper than on my console."


While I want to consider Disc Jam on its own merits, it’s impossible to interact with this game at all without noticing tangential similarities to Psyonix’s soccer/demolition derby hybrid, Rocket League. The comparisons are just too easy to make. They’re both arcade-style takes on sports games. They’re both centered primarily - or exclusively in Disc Jam’s case - around online multiplayer. Both games were initially released free of charge on the Playstation 4 for those with a Playstation Plus subscription. Hell, the menus are even laid out similarly. The decision to replicate some of Rocket League’s ancillary features is more than understandable. A game that entered the world as an unknown curio at launch has gone on to become perhaps the most leftfield success story of this generation, selling over ten million copies across three platforms, develop its own esports community, and maintain a consistent player base more than a year after release. There are much worse leads to follow.

The one-sentence description to describe Disc Jam is “tennis meets Windjammers”, a Neo Geo game from 1994 that has found a second life thanks to livestreams from prominent video game websites. Playing as one of the four player characters, each of varying skill sets and musculature, you and your opponent - or opponents since if you’re playing in the game’s doubles mode - take turns attempting to swing your not-quite-a-frisbee past your rival and into the opposing goal. There are plenty of ways to manipulate the trajectory of your throws: you can apply plenty of swerve on your shots, toss out deceptive lobs, unleash serpentine supershots ensconced in flame. Whoever scores fifty points twice during the three-set match is the victor. In between matches, you can unlock customization options to augment every piece of visual stimuli on the screen by pulling the lever on the prize machine, this game’s way of dishing out new skins and taunts at a decent clip (one every three of four games). This is a good recipe to start off with, which makes it more disappointing that the finished product is just okay. I found Disc Jam to be unnaturally sluggish far too often. The power behind your throws is predominantly timing-based; the kinetic energy of the disc quickly dwindles with each tenth of a second it rests in your arms. The rewards for throwing the disc immediately after catching the ball are clearly displayed; it flies across the screen accentuated with a bright pink stream of light. But if you fail to hit that very small window, the whole match feels like it’s moving at half-speed. I never got the timing down, and the game suffered for that. It might be user error, but I never got a handle on the timing enough to make pull off perfect throws consistently.

This leads to the game having this a stop-start flow that doesn’t lend well to creating momentum. Games don’t feel as exhilarating as they should, even when engaged in a particularly elongated rally. It’s missing those moments of exuberance that take your breath away, stunned at the move you or your opponent just pulled off. I get moments like that out of Rocket League all the time. Those last-minute saves where someone’s car veers in from offscreen to make an improbable save. Those times - few and far between if you’re me - where you hit the ball perfectly off the stadium wall and into the goal to win a game in overtime. Everything in Disc Jam feels bloodless in comparison, like the dimmed lighting of the stadiums you play in extends into the basic game design.

Disc Jam is far from a bad game. But it’s merely competent across the board, and it just reminds me of the better times I could be having elsewhere. I still play Rocket League most nights that I have time to play games. If you put a gun to my head and asked me what my favorite game of this generation is, I would probably choose Rocket League. I don’t know why you would be putting a gun to my head just to ask me this meaningless question when I could just tell you without the threat of death, but who can resist the opportunity to use an empty cliche? Comparing these games is admittedly a tad unfair, but Disc Jam derives from the same phylum of fantastical sports games as Rocket League. Maybe I’d feel better about Disc Jam if I played more of it. But it’s not really inspiring me to go back to it.

3/5

sam1193's avatar
Community review by sam1193 (March 21, 2017)

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