Diamond in the Rough Potential

I have to start off this preview with a bit of a confession. When I was scouring Steam’s newly released titles, I stumbled upon Super Buckyball Tournament in its recently unveiled open beta-like “Preseason”, giving players an in-depth look at what is in store for the My Time in Portia studio’s endeavor into the competitive eSports genre. On first look it resembled a melding of Rocket League and Overwatch, and while SBT‘s tutorial and initial impressions did not inspire much confidence for what was in store, after 7 hours of contests I can say I’m thoroughly impressed with what is available.

The comparisons to other titles are going to be fervorous, but make no mistake that SBT does carry a wafting air of originality within its commandeering of competitors’ pieces around it. SBT‘s preseason presents 7 characters to enter battle with: from high-striking Forwards like Pai and Pink, to smash-mouth Defenders like R47 and Gridiron, and the balanced midfield characters in between like Samba, Lang, and Eriel. Each character is set with stats that categorize their speed, accuracy, stamina, strength and ball control, as well as special abilities and ultimates to turn tides in their favor. Character abilities are varied in how they are accumulated, whether by cooldown or by active gametime around the ball.

Like Rocket League, you’re given a giant metal-like soccer ball with the purpose of slamming it into your opponent’s goal. The addition of a 2-point goal line, akin to basketball’s 3-point line, is a welcome addition for riskier plays that yield greater rewards. Each stage contains energy and item pickups that will help your character load up their abilities quicker, as well as disrupt enemies with items like bug bombs that throw opponents up and over in a heap, ice walls that stop the ball in a frozen casing, to even swapping you and an opponent’s positions to throw off their defense or stop a breakaway. Functionality overshadows appeal as SBT‘s small amount of arenas shown aren’t the most dazzling chunks of real estate to look at, but I never ran into any maybe one or two graphical issues or bugs during play.

Your first 30 or so minutes with SBT are gonna be a little rough. English translation from the Chinese studio is uneven, with sentences in the tutorial jumbled to a hilarious degree. The tutorial is also very scant on specific details like character abilities and team synergy, but instead presents itself as a semi-fleshed out button check and a first to 3 practice match afterward with AI opponents who don’t do much to earn any competitive trust.

Once you find yourself in the main menu your confidence will start to grow given how much is available in the Preseason. Each of the 7 characters have a decent amount of customization, with different colors, outfits, and accessories to unlock with gold currency and a free 60-level Battle Pass in tow. While I fully expect SBT to be free-to-play with premium currency requested for its Season Pass, the variety in items and accessories is a nice start going into its eventual Day 1 launch. Gold currency is accumulated through completed games, with Honor Points awarded for wins and MVPs. What those Honor Points do I’m not quite sure yet, but it does help unlock the generous amount of challenges available. These challenges, updated daily and weekly with additional static lifetime challenges, are your typical “win X amount” or “play X amount” that when completed award XP towards your level. Prices on the bigger accessories take quite a bit of grinding to get to, so be wary of the eventual real life currency you’ll be most likely asked to pony up.

But all of this means squat if the game isn’t fun playing, and I was blown away at how much fun I had. The characters are nice and varied in their styles, and matches are delightfully fast-paced: passes are snappy, shots feel powerful, and saves can be epic. The back and forth in a tightly wound match is exhilarating and hitting that goal to take the lead has gotten my competitive ass out of my seat more than once. There are a few inconsistencies with abilities not countering other abilities at what feels like random times that can be pretty frustrating, especially when it pulls a 2-point goal against you, but the few gameplay issues Demetri and I found haven’t slowed down the fun.

SBT is already doing more than previous 3v3 titles currently out by adding an Arcade Mode and custom lobbies outside its Casual Mode. Arcade Mode currently has two rotations: Mayhem, which forcefully swaps characters for every player after each goal, and Dodgeball, which is pretty self-explanatory. Custom lobbies don’t currently provide any interesting ways to tinker with the rules or physics, but that’s something I hope will be included in due time.

All-in-all, I’m impressed with what’s been presented in Super Buckyball‘s Preseason. The groundwork for a fast and enjoyable 3v3 experience is here, but it will need a nice coat of polish and a continuous stream of content to keep the game fresh and enticing for players to latch on for seasons to come. Super Buckyball Tournament‘s Preseason ends December 6th, with the full title slated for release in early 2021.

Previewed on Steam.