The official team sport genre, MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) are my new genre du jour, though I’ll admit that the overly-hardcore nature of games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends (along with their overly-hardcore players) is a big turn-off for me. I love the team-oriented nature of MOBAs and the strategy that comes with it; as fun as it is to take on ridiculous odds alone, it’s much more fun with a team of friends. Most all MOBAs are free-to-play, generally allowing you access to only certain characters each rotation, with character rotations changing weekly.
This rotation format works in games like DOTA and LoL because their character rosters are so vast; with over 100+ characters to choose from, the game doesn’t feel old and you generally feel like you’ve got a fighting chance. When your roster is only 6 characters deep though…you’ve got Rustbucket Rumble.
The premise is entertaining from the outset: you play as one of three robots trying to build a giant, enemy-base-smashing mega-robot out of recycled scrap metal. Where do you find this scrap metal, you might ask? Well, you’ll find it in spawn locations out on the battlefield, but you’ll also find it on your opponents…actually, AS your opponents. Each time you knock out an opponent they’ll temporarily turn into a recycling bin of scrap that you can take back to your base and throw in the recycler to build towards your own mega-robot. This creates an interesting rubber-band mechanic in good matches where the action pushes back and forth as players spawn, carry defeated foes part way back to base, then watch for them to wake up and try to escape. As a 2D platformer, the levels feel pretty barren; there may be one or two points of interest to visit, but more the most part, stages are rather plain and are meant to take a backseat to combat itself.
Combat in Rustbucket Rumble feels great when the setup is perfect, but finding the perfect setup in-game will be awful hard. Rustbucket Rumble offers a 6-character roster, with each character wielding strikingly different skills than the others. For example, Clancy, Bjorn, the big bruiser robot, can pick up recycling bins and throw them long distances, while Kasumi, the ninja, can vanish from the playing field or create duplicates of herself when trying to carry recycling back to base. Each robot has its own weapon as well: with selections ranging from sniper rifles to rocket launchers, there are plenty of choices…assuming you’ve paid the $9.99 to unlock the Debut Character Pack. If you haven’t, then you get to select from one of TWO weekly rotation characters.
This problem is a double-edged sword; players who are playing the game for free quickly start to feel the monotony of using the same characters and seeing the same team combinations over and over again, while I have to admit that I often felt like some sort of cheater when I brought in my players from the Debut Pack. Honestly, I got to the point where I only wanted to play the 2 unlocked characters in matches because I felt like having my other options broke the game, and I never got matched up (to my knowledge) with other Pack owners to switch things up. Honestly, I can’t imagine that if I were playing the game for free, the experience from using those same two characters repeatedly would inspire me to shell out the cast for the full game.
Rustbucket Rumble takes the simple, streamlined approach to MOBAs; with no in-game items or special builds to hassle with, it’s a great starter game for those looking to get familiar with the genre. But until the roster widens a bit, Rustbucket Rumble feels like a bit of a bumble, making it too hard to recommend to gamers who have so many other options for play at their disposal.