Saturday, March 17

Review: Disc Jam [Nintendo Switch eShop]

As a big fan of all things TRON and the arcade classic Windjammers Disc Jam looked like a game right up my alley. Throw in some modern enhancements and sensibilities, online play, and a sprinkle of excitement here and there and I’d be set. In practice, though, while Disc Jam has some good ideas and executes fairly well the final product comes up a bit lacking.

Starting with the basics you’ll be walked through two tutorials that give you a rundown of the skills you’ll need to refine and perfect in the game. The starter tutorial is good for going over basic movement and mechanics, and then the advanced tutorial begins to get into more advanced moves, nuance, and ways to unleash fury on your opponent. For the most part the moves make sense and work out, timing is a big component to things as a perfect small delay in throwing from the time you catch helps put a little oomph into it and your slide is essential to getting into place to grab the disc.

Once you feel ready for a match your options are to play locally, play online, or to play ghost matches essentially against the CPU but with someone’s character (and supposedly some measure of their play style) from the online space. As you play against different people tactics and levels of skill certainly can vary, though most of the time it is a back and forth match of trying to get your opponent to make a mistake while making none yourself… at least when you start out. As you advance people will begin to do things like power themselves up with a block to catch and it can get more intense. There is both singles and doubles play, though in general doubles is tricky without the person sitting next to you as people often can’t tell who is going for which shot so it can be frustrating. As a general note even with cross-platform play enabled matchmaking is very much a mixed bag, sometimes getting a match within a minute but other times feeling a bit hopeless so just be aware that Ghost matches will often be where you’ll grind the most.

That leads into the biggest beef I have with the game, the lack of customization options for online matches… at least not without making a further financial investment or a substantial amount of time. There are ways to customize one of your relatively limited number of available base characters but you’ll need to either cough up real currency or grind quite a bit in order to unlock any of it. Worse, with few exceptions, you’ll just be pulling the lever on a prize randomizer for your troubles, often unlocking things for characters you don’t use or things that lack in interest.  The result is playing as and against a hell of a lot of the same exact people. If there weren’t customization options at all I think I’d be less annoyed than having quite a number of them but making the process of getting them so nakedly greedy. If it were a free-to-play I could see it, but even with the game’s modest price it’s pretty bad. Looking at the Rocket League model where there are many base customization options people quickly unlock and then loot crates to take it to the next level would serve the developer well.

Looking at the general state of things the key to whether you should invest in Disc Jam or not comes down to your tastes and whether you either have friends to play with or can put up with online play being hit or miss in terms of opponent availability. Playing against the CPU does have some variation but always feels quite different from a live adversary. Throw in the pretty blatant attempt to extract more money from people who’ve bought in and it isn’t a game without merit but it struggles to stand out as a game that’s suitable for everyone.

Score: 6

  • Online play, when you can find it, can be suitably intense
  • Quite a bit of room for technique and nuance

  • Even with cross-platform play there’s an availability problem when looking for online matches
  • Character customization exists but is handled in a very poor and even annoying manner
  • For all of the nuance many matches still fall into a pretty straightforward back and forth