The Pinnacle of Virtual Sports Entertainment

I adore fake sports games. Fighting games are cool and all but they often lack the approachability of a wonky phony ball game where the players can beat the butter out of each other. Give me impossible, ridiculous, spectacle-laden competition that I can play against a friend! Shock and titillate me! I’ve got money!

Fortunately we’ve recently played some bangers that meet this exceedingly narrow niche, and now we’re going to tell you about them from good to great. Lucky you!

Ultra Space Battle Brawl

Brodin rules so hard. Like oh my god.

Demetri: Warlords is underrated. Everybody talks about Pong when they see a game about bouncing a ball back and forth, and that’s fair, but Warlords always felt like “Pong: Extreme”. Slowly losing your defenses as you miss your opponent’s shots builds tension, and there’s a strategic layer of intentionally letting your walls eat hits in order to set up a good bounce. Brilliant stuff, and a good foundation! Now let’s make it significantly more ridiculous and add birds.

Ultra Space Battle Brawl is a game played in literal space, somehow, where people fly around and bash a ball back and forth with whatever foreign object they happened to bring with them. You need to hit their crystal 5 times to win a round, and to do that you have to go through the barrier made of birds that share their players’ hairdo. This game looks and reads weird, believe me I know, but it really is not especially different from Warlords beyond some extra steps. You can’t break your own blocks with your own shot, for one, and asymmetric characters offer a meaningful pre-game choice.

Kyle: It’s definitely a game that is confusing sounding on paper, but makes total sense when you take the reins. There are 10 characters to choose from, each having different stats on how powerful they hit the ball, to the range in which they can hit, to specials for each character that can really change the tide of the battle. Sometimes it just takes an uber-aggressive approach and a well-timed special and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

Demetri: And this is where USBB stumbles just a bit. The game gives you completely free movement – no midline or barrier of any kind – which means you can mash your little heart out right against your opponent’s crystal and try to kill them with the quickness. Their supers are also wildly varied, ranging from mildly annoying to completely devastating, and that is where a couple problems with balance start to creep in.

These gripes aren’t substantive though, not really. I won’t pretend that they significantly affect the enjoyability of this thing. If you pop two controllers in and play a game of USBB with a friend you’re going to have a good time, and at the end of the day that’s what matters.

World Fighting Soccer 22

What a save from Z. Jones, known for his ability to flick a Bic lighter mid-return!

Kyle: Take the unlikely combination of FIFA’s World Cup and a smashed meatball of Divekick and Nidhogg and you’ll be blessed to witness the spectacle of World Fighting Soccer 22. It looks ripped straight from the Neo Geo days and presented in a PC format where you have to Alt + F4 out of the game (consoles back in the day didn’t have a quit button you idiot).

Demetri: I swear I won’t start every one of these with a comparison, but you really don’t get a game like WFS22 without Nidhogg. Both games are about running directly through your opponent’s defenses with a variety of acrobatics and making it to a goal. The key difference is what you’re putting in said goal; in Nidhogg you sacrifice yourself to the titular beast after a violent fencing match, and in WFS22 you kick a ball into a net.

It sounds like a setup for a joke but this alone creates a significant difference in terms of play! Sure you can still divekick your opponent, but it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t strip the ball and keep pushing it upfield. Needing to make a successful shot on goal at the end is also considerably different as it gives the defense a solid opportunity to turn things around, and since the game ends after 2 minutes as opposed to a single goal you’re unlikely to lose due to a single error. Slick game all around, and there’s a bit more than just the novelty behind its flash.

Kyle: Controls are snappy and the pace is insane. Games are super intense and fast-paced. There’s not much meat on the bones as everything can be seen within about an hour, but the morsels provided are absolutely decadent.

Rounds

I had to grab a media image for this because in all our hours of Rounds we never once thought to stop playing long enough to take a screenshot. That’s the highest compliment I can offer.

Demetri: You may think this is a bit of a stretch. I disagree for two reasons: bloodsport is still sport, and also the game is incredibly good and deserves to be talked about regardless.

Rounds is simple on the surface. It’s a 1v1 game where each player is a small ball with limbs. Your goal is to be the first to win 5 rounds, each of which is a best of 3. You have movement, a jump that also lets you climb, a parry, and a gun. Shoot your friend to win!

Of course it’s not quite that easy in practice. At the start of the game each player drafts a card and these are as wildly varied as they are impactful. Your gun starts as a fairly piddly peashooter, slowly lobbing bullets that can’t make it across the screen. Each round a player loses offers them a new pack of cards to crack, allowing them to go full gunsmith and turn their plink machine into a huge range of horrors. Homing bullets, various types of poison, melee-style attacks on parry, airdashes, and a bevy of other stats and effects await you. Each is interesting in a vacuum but it’s when combined that these really pop off, rewarding creative players with everything they need to come from behind if they can outplan their opponent.

The combat in this game is positively electric. Starting a round with a new card in the chamber feels incredibly powerful, and starting on the other side often fills you with dread as you realize what your opponent will be capable of. Movement is quick, bullets are quicker, and outwitting your rival is the strongest of highs. This is aided by a beautiful depth to complexity ratio – it’s an easy game to understand and the controls couldn’t be simpler, but the more you play the more room you have to improve and grow with the game until eventually everybody becomes their own distinct kind of circular badass.

What’s impressed me most about Rounds is how it rewards different skillsets. In my friend group we’ve found ourselves all taking on roles that make each of us a unique threat. One is an eSportsman and plays as well as you’d expect, but he goes for parries he shouldn’t and can get frazzled by abnormal card picks. Another is iffy at platforming but they make up for it with inhuman accuracy. We have someone who by his own admission doesn’t have the strongest reactions, but his gunsmithing is unrivaled as he builds Oppenheimer-tier death machines. Kyle is an aggromonster, running people down before they have an opportunity to think but sometimes getting perforated before he gets there. I have no idea what I’m good at but even I still get wins in somehow!

The fact that all of us – each and every one – has a very real chance against any other player despite our spread of talents leaves me in awe of this thing. I’ve gifted it to about seven people now because I legitimately want them to find their niche in the ecosystem, and also to experience the joy of fastball poison buckshot that pierces walls. “Bullshit Violent Sport” is a subgenre I adore and Rounds is in its upper echelon.

Kyle: I’ve got nothing else to add other than this game has taken over our Discord for several days and it will continue. What a riot this game is.