A Bright, Fluffy, and Surprisingly Good Time

Rocket Arena is an unassuming game. When it was first shown off, it looked like an interesting blend of cute and vibrant aesthetics with a niche selling point of “everything is rockets.” While I wasn’t entirely sold on the premise from its trailer, Demetri happened to stumble upon a nice sale which we both jumped on to indulge our curiosity. I’ll say this with good confidence and a genuine amount of surprise: Rocket Arena stands as one of the better multiplayer shooters of 2020.

In the world of Crater the biggest event on the planet stands as the Rocket Championship Tour. Countries from all over assemble arenas for the world’s most talented contestants to do battle. Each event is powered by the world’s abundance of fuel, from which rockets are made in all different shapes and sizes for one goal: to be the last team standing.

The aesthetic and tone of Rocket Arena is almost that of a party-like game. The 11 characters, from the bright and spunky personality of the whizkid Plink to the majestic mystery of the magician Mysteen, look ripped right from a Dreamworks Animation picture. This is doubled down on thanks to the 10 maps in rotation for Season 1, with the soaring skies of Hypersonic Heights and The Golden Zephyr (best map – ed.), the underwater treasures of Shimmering Depths and Star of Crater, to deserts and Aztec ruins and everything in between. There’s a beautifully diverse palette of scenery to enjoy doing battle on and each stage feels fair and fresh to play, even after repeated runs.

Four modes are spread across these maps to enjoy. Knockout, which is a first to 20 “Deathmatch” scenario. Mega Rocket, which fills the “hold the control point” function as literal mega-rockets touch down and teams capture 5 to win. Treasure Hunt, which combines platforming collect-a-thons with holding a treasure chest and collecting coins ala Oddball in Halo. Finally there’s Rocketball, which has teams trying to be the first to score 5 goals by either running, throwing, or shooting a oversized beach ball into the opponent’s goal.

The gameplay and battle tone of Rocket Arena plays something like a PlayStation All-Stars, but combined with a 3D shooter (thanks Demetri for that comparison. – ed.) And before you all leave with that remark, know that Rocket Arena does an amazing job with this. Each arena is surrounded by a blast zone much like PS All-Stars or Super Smash Bros., but instead of having a life bar to deplete, each character has a blast gauge. The gauge increases with each hit, and when full will have a character launched from the arena with a Megablast. A higher gauge will have characters fly faster and farther, so while a Megablast isn’t needed to temporarily remove your opponent from battle it’s an emphatic statement for the end of your combo.

Each character’s initial attack will always be rockets as you’d likely expect given the title, but each character’s kit is wildly different and a blast to play. Whether you’re Topnotch lobbing grenade-like rockets with air barrages to cover choke points, Amphora charging shots and turning into an ultra-fast stingray to avoid damage, or Kayi firing long-range rocket-propelled crossbow shots while dropping a time-altering “Snow Globe” to allow tactical dodging, there’s a style of every kind here to choose from.

While damage is propelled via rockets, so is the main movement of characters. Each character has a triple jump to traverse the smaller heights, but a rocket under the feet will propel them higher. Rockets shot against a wall can be used to scale them, allowing for aerial combat and finding some good perches to pick off opponents. Along with the two character-specific abilities a trusty dodge will be a frequently used part of your kit. This dodge button not only avoids incoming projectiles via invincibility frames, but can also stun break if you find yourself being consistently thrown backward by a combo of attacks and need to escape an opponent’s combo. Learn to live by that dodge!

The battles are frantic and fast, and the skill ceiling is sky high where teamwork reigns supreme. The default 3v3 feels crowded enough for the map sizes, and characters feel naturally cohesive regardless of who you pick. It’s controlled chaos having to maintain a high vertical vantage point while peppering opponents with attacks and dodging incoming shots to complete objectives. Pulling off a solid combo into a Megablast and zoning enemies from an objective to secure the victory for you and your friends feels highly rewarding every time. Another welcomed addition is the inclusion of cross-play between PC, Origin, Xbox, and Playstation making social matches quick to populate.

Rocket Arena adds an element of customization with the inclusion of artifacts. Artifacts, which are unlocked after battles and upgraded with each completed game, carry passive buffs to your loadout that range from higher jumps, to bonuses on KO, to extra damage while on the ground. Three can be slotted in and can add a nice punch to your specific playstyle. What’s nice is Rocket Arena has all artifacts automatically unlocked for Ranked play to ensure there’s a level playing field going in. (Note: I did not try any Ranked play, since the queue times were very long [>5min] and frankly I don’t have that kind of confidence in my play.)

There is also a ton of aesthetic character customization: a plethora of different costumes, a totem to deck out, trails when you come back after a knockout, and trails when you Megablast opponents out of the arena. With this you’re probably thinking what everyone is, and yes: there are micro-transactions. The asking price of $29.99, alongside a ~$10 battle pass (purchased with Rocket Fuel, the premium in-game currency), and the option to purchase anywhere from $4.99 to $99.99 worth of Rocket Fuel is a hard pill to swallow. Thankfully with daily and weekly challenges giving Rocket Parts, the “silver” currency of Rocket Arena, and each increased level on a character also yielding Rocket Parts, the items that aren’t locked behind the Battle Pass or Rocket Fuel are easily acquirable thanks to how aggressively the game rewards players.

But if my only real troubles with Rocket Arena are some long queue times for a specific mode of the game and some hefty asking of extra cash, I can’t really complain too much. Rocket Arena is a well-polished niche shooter that is a blast to play and a refreshingly bright spot in the normally grimy and dark genre.

Reviewed on Steam.