On the heels of the massive success that is Rocket League comes High Horse Entertainment’s Disc Jam. A quick pick-up-and-play match-style game between two players (or two teams) with basic controls, simple rules and a whole lot of fun. It features gameplay that is addicting, but after playing the game for a little over a week, one has to wonder if there is enough here to keep people coming back.
Disc Jam is to volleyball what Rocket League is to soccer. Each game features two players (or two teams of two), a net, some walls and a disc. You score points by sending the disc flying into your opponent’s back wall — think of it as a net — or if your opponent lets it hit the floor on their side. Once you hit 50 points you win the set, and you need to win two of the three sets in order to win the match.
There are three basic throws: X for a hard throw, Square for a lob, and L2/R2 for curves. You can, of course, use the left thumb stick to modify and aim your throws. When the disc is thrown your way, you catch it simply by being in position and cutting it off before it hits the back wall. If you’re too far away and won’t be able to get there in time, use the Square button to rush over and make the stop just in time.
If you want something more devastating than a catch, instead of just letting it come to you, tap a throw button as soon as you catch it to send it back over to your opponent at a much higher speed. And if you have enough time, stand under a lobbed disc to charge up and use a special throw. There are three in the game, but you can only assign one to your character at a time, so pick your favorite.
After a few matches, you’ll have the basics down and move on to strategies: knowing when to lob vs. using a straight throw, understanding how to use the walls to your advantage, and things of that sort. After dozens of matches I’m still refining the way I play, which is impressive, given the simplicity of the gameplay controls.
The game features four unique characters, although one has to think more could be added down the line. Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some characters are really strong while lacking speed, while the speed demons don’t have much power. Controls are the same no matter the character, but each person’s Square-button “slide” defense is a tad different.
This game doesn’t feature a lot of bells and whistles, but the presentation is perfectly fine for this type of game. The main menu is very straight forward, so don’t worry about getting lost in a web of clunky menus. You can easily find your way to starting a new match, customizing your character or taking a turn at the prize machine (more on that later).
During gameplay, you’ll find a scoreboard at the top that shows the score of the current game as well as the set score. The graphics and effects are definitely on the cartoony side, which is absolutely appropriate for this game. It’s fun to sling a disc right past your opponent, score and then hear the siren go off as your opponent goes flying across the screen.
The importance of online is critical here because there is no single-player mode whatsoever in the game. There is, however, a LAN option. My online experience has been a mixed bag so far. Once I am connected, I’ve maybe had maybe three to five matches that featured any lag, and of those, only one or two were noticeably bad. I’ve played dozens of matches so far, so this is pretty impressive.
The problem, however, is connecting to a match. It was quite painful the first few days, but the developers did confirm they were experiencing server issues and that they were working to get them corrected. Ever since then, it’s been much, much better. Still, it does take a bit longer than I’d like to connect to a match. Suffice to say, two-player matches connect quicker than four-player matches. All that said, the improvement has been noticeable, so there’s plenty of reason for optimism going forward.
To me, this is the big question with Disc Jam. Everything still feels relatively fresh. Is there enough right now to keep players engaged? The lack of any single-player mode isn’t a huge deal, but then you better come correct with some other features to keep coming back for more.
Currently, the only offering is the prize machine. You earn points in game based on how well you play, and after you accumulate 1,000 points, you get to pull the lever and out comes new taunts, outfits and more. It’s a cute little novelty, but very bare bones and certainly nothing that will ensure return players.
Now, some of you might say, “Who cares if there are no other features! I’m here for the gameplay, baby! I just want to go out and dominate and see how my record stacks up against the best Disc Jammers across the planet.” To which I say, “You can’t.”
Because, currently, there are no stats or record keeping of any kind whatsoever. And I’m not even talking about tracking “super throws” or “killer saves” or anything like that. You don’t even get a wins-losses tally, much less a leaderboard. To be fair, the developers have stated that ranked play will come down the line, along with additional game modes and maps, and all for free. With no current ETA for implementation, it’ll be interesting to see if players stick around long enough to enjoy these promised updates.
Disc Jam is in an interesting place. It has the solid foundation for a classic game in the same vein of Rocket League. The characters are fun, the gameplay is competitive and addicting, and it keeps bringing you back for more.
But it’s hard it ignore what’s not there. The arena doesn’t feel stale to me yet, but after a few weeks of gameplay, I imagine it would or could. And without any record keeping, there’s really no sense of continued accomplishment.
It reminds me of watching your favorite professional sports team in the preseason. Yes, I’m happy that basketball is back. And yes, I’m really happy that my team looks great out there. But now that we’re halfway through the preseason, I’m ready to fast forward to the regular season. It’s time for the games to count.
That’s not to say I’m giving up on Disc Jam until more features are released. Quite the opposite, in fact. The gameplay has me hooked in a way that I don’t see myself putting this one down for a long time.
Score: 6.5 (Above Average)