DISC JAM Review
I don’t like DISC JAM. Maybe that’s more on me than the game itself, but it has to be said. It’s hard to play and even harder to enjoy, but I see how people could like it, and I definitely see why a game like it would be made. It just didn’t work for me and I think the amount of people it actually could work for is far slimmer than you or the people who are responsible for it think.
Riding the coattails of the renewed interest in local multiplayer games, DISC JAM, designed by ex-Activision developers at High Horse Entertainment, is a take on WINDJAMMERS, a cult classic that returned to the public consciousness after being Let’s Played to death by a group of gaming journalists at Giantbomb.com. WINDJAMMERS, after toiling in purgatory for 22 years (due to the closure of its developer Data East and a complicated chain of sales to various other publishers) is finally being remastered and released by DotEmu. Like any nostalgia vulture, DISC JAM is entering the market so that the impatient people who can’t wait for WINDJAMMERS and everyone who’s bored with ROCKET LEAGUE can have a new place to huddle, keeping the nice idea of friendly multiplayer games that aren’t about guns alive. I wouldn’t pin your hopes on DISC JAM, though.
Footage of the remake of WINDJAMMERS with the people who sort of made it happen
At its heart, DISC JAM and its brethren answer the simple question of, “What if you could be inside of PONG”? Something that sounds like a discarded TRON plotline, but in practice is usually pretty fun. While WINDJAMMERS chose to express this in a top-down asymmetrical style, DISC JAM ops for a way-over-the-shoulder third person perspective. You and your character look down the court at your opponent WII SPORTS Tennis style, tossing discs and sliding around to grab discs out of the air, preventing them from hitting your goal and scoring the opposite side a point. The basics of real life tennis intermix as well; volleys increase point values and disc speed and the scoreboard uses the familiar tennis point system to express who’s winning. This is all fine and good, with ample room for simple tossing and far more complex spin moves and rebound tricks. The problem I ran into, and I suspect a majority of more casual console players will run into as well, is the finickiness of the controls and DISC JAM’s complete reluctance to do anything about.
But why is it so hard to be cool?
I spent approximately 30 minutes trying to recreate a spin move that I had to complete in order to move onto the next part of the DISC JAM tutorial. A tutorial that you have to complete the first time in order to even play the game at all. Which, in all fairness, makes complete sense; if the barrier to entry is going to be that steep from the get go, then players should know how to actually play before heading online, otherwise they’ll lose. The problem is that I did complete the tutorial and played several local matches against bots before heading online, where I lost almost every time. Some of this is me. I’ve never been one for precision or split-second reactions; I’m not good at competitive games in general unless they favor strategy over skill or just a lot of brute force (something I’m fond of). DISC JAM requires this kind of precision almost constantly, somehow allowing for a precision in movement that can’t even be adequately communicated by the controller or on screen prompts. Even the slightest tilt of the stick will send a disc in a completely new angle, something that I could see being valuable in a competitive match, but for a beginning player (the majority of players of a new game) just makes things frustrating. This is something a game like OVERWATCH was able to overcome just by being better designed. I’m not sure why the time couldn’t be taken with DISC JAM.
A note on OVERWATCH, since most online multiplayer games in 2017 either aim to compete with it or live in its shadow. OVERWATCH is so polished not because of the considerable resources Blizzard/Activision has behind it, but rather because as complicated and arcane as the characters and their interactions become, the gameplay of is forgiving and ultimately boils down to pointing and clicking, “praying and spraying.” These games succeed when they offer a base level of interaction that everyone can start with and instantly understand (the shooting of OVERWATCH) and higher levels of play that take advantage of character abilities and combinations. DISC JAM has an interesting mechanic in its curving and rebounding discs, but no clear or easy way to get people to use them the way the game prefers.
There is a wide variety of muscleboys and musclegirls to choose from, but they’ll all be difficult to play and you’ll never spend money on skins (please don’t)
Similar complaints could be lobbed at DISC JAM’s visual design and interface, which is completely fine, but just plain enough to not be engaging (it’s like AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR and AMERICAN GLADIATORS had a baby that feels like a PC game), and just ilegible enough to feel like it wasn’t optimized for a home console experience. It is now repetitive at this point, but all of this is FINE. I don’t mean to disparage or discourage DISC JAM and games like it, quite the opposite, but it begs the question of why sell a game like this, a game that seems to not support its main source of income (cosmetic sales in an online store) and Sony’s main reason to promote it (to convince people to pay for their online service), but rather chase fun gameplay that it’s not able to communicate well enough. By being hard to play, and therefore hard to enjoy, DISC JAM does nobody any favors and it becomes more of a bummer the more I think about it. Online games are hard, online competitive games even more so. But this isn’t one that I can say I’d recommend. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try (especially if you’ve already gotten it for free through PS Plus), it just means that the line of people willing to egg you on is disappointingly short. Make of that what you may.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on PC