VR is the wave of the future! That’s what they said five years ago, anyway, and yet I’m still not playing a real-world rendition of Sword Art Online. Le sigh. If you’re after some hard-hitting virtual reality gameplay, sometimes you’ve just got to take what you can get. In today’s case that means dodgeball instead of fully immersive online RPG worlds, though admittedly not getting stuck in VR unable to log out is probably a plus. Smashbox Arena is your huckleberry if you long for the days of recess, broken noses and having your head smashed to the blacktop by an errant dodgeball and wish to simulate those beloved memories today.
Smashbox Arena falls prey to my biggest pet peeve when it comes to VR games: teleporting movement. Yes, I know that most people get sick when using standard movement in a VR setting. I’m willing to risk the entire rest of the world puking if it means I get to walk around instead of warping all over the place like a demented and/or lazy wizard. Here you’ll get around by firing your guns at the place you want to warp to, which is a fairly standard conceit for this sort of setup and works well enough if you’re used to VR gameplay. There’s a quick-turn option mapped to one of the Move’s face buttons, but that’s more than awkward to use and in practice I didn’t find it helped much.
Otherwise, this is a fairly standard shooter twisted around a bit by the fact that you’re playing in VR. It’s somewhat similar to dodgeball; you’re armed with weapons that can vacuum and shoot balls around, and like dodgeball you can hang on to a ball to use as a shield before launching it back at an opponent. Matches are three-on-three affairs that you can play online or with bots (or both, as open spots in an online match are filled with CPU players) and victory is earned by taking out the entire opposing side. When you’re taken down you’re out for the rest of the match, but you can spectate the arena while you’re waiting for things to wrap up so it’s not a complete drag.
Powerups strewn throughout the arenas help keep things a little more interesting, including a shield, a sniper scope and a fireball. Coordinating grabbing and using these with teleporting about, holding on to balls to defend yourself and firing balls to take out enemies makes for a pretty hectic experience, and I’m not sure I can recommend this to VR newcomers as combining all of this with the quirks of headset control might be a little too much. If you’ve already got your VR legs, though, this is engaging and enjoyable without feeling like it gives up too much for the sake of being a VR game…except for the movement controls. One day someone will solve those motion sickness issues.
This isn’t the most visually appealing game and it doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. Arenas are fairly bland, characters aren’t exactly memorable, and most of your time is going to be spent desperately trying to avoid getting a dodgeball to the face rather than admiring the view. If you want a gorgeous VR masterpiece you might want to stick to something like Rez Infinite; if you just want to play dodgeball, then your dreams have come true. As expected for a VR game the framerate remains stable, since otherwise people would be puking everywhere more than they already are, so there’s that.
There’s not a lot to Smashbox Arena in general, with the idea appearing to be that multiplayer will carry things despite the relative lack of arenas and single-player content; again, that’s par for the PSVR course. $30 is also a pretty sizable cash outlay for what you’re getting here; one would imagine this is a $20 game with the PSVR tax added on, and lo and behold the game’s Steam version will cost you $10 less than what you’re paying here (so if you have a Rift or Vive you might want to go that direction instead.) It’s obvious why this is, since VR headsets aren’t exactly cheap peripherals which suggests that anyone who owns one can afford to pay premium prices for games that might be lacking in content, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant when it happens. PSVR fans, of course, are going to have to take what they can get in the absence of many big-name hard-hitting games for the peripheral, and with that in mind Smashbox Arena is passable if not impressive.