Hands-On: ‘Smashbox Arena’ Is Like Team-Based Dodgeball on Steroids

by David Jagneaux • November 22nd, 2016

As I stood, perched atop a small hill on the edge of a wood plank that overlooked the arena, I felt powerful. I had just teleported to the top of this hill by throwing my orb and my enemies were scattered below me. I could hear the sounds of everyone giggling and laughing while playing, but little did they know, they were all about to die. I reached back with my powered up hand and threw a dodgeball that quickly morphed into a giant, rolling boulder the size of a small office building. The boulder rampaged through the arena, squishing everyone in its wake, and racking up a handful of fresh kills to pad my stats.

Then, before I knew it, someone lobbed a dodgeball at me from below and hit me square in the face before I was able to react and dodge. This is Smashbox Arena.

By taking the general concept behind a game like dodgeball and infusing it with the over-the-top arcade action that’s only possible in video games, the team at BigBox VR is tapping into what makes competitive multiplayer so much fun. Examples such as CounterStrike, Mario Kart, and Rocket League are all listed as heavy inspirations when I spoke with Chia Chin Lee, Co-Founder and CEO of BigBox VR.

During my demo session with Smashbox Arena, I got to try out several of the game’s levels within the core competitive team-based gameplay. I picked a face at the main menu lobby, completed the tutorial, then headed to the multiplayer waiting area. When I wasn’t holding a ball or powerup in a hand, I could point and toss an orb that allowed me to teleport to wherever my orb landed. There was a short time period between when the orb landed and when I teleported.

All around the map are dodgeballs ready for me to pick up. I just point a controller and pull the trigger, it comes straight to my hand. Worth noting is that instead of throwing the balls, as you do in actual dodgeball, or in Rec Room, your hands are actually holding launcher guns of some sort that send the balls flying forward when you shoot them. It feels more like shooting a rocket launcher than ‘throwing’ a dodgeball.

The various powerups though, such as the aforementioned boulder, are the real stars of the show here. You can find all manner of enhancements, including fireballs, sniper rifles, shields, and much more. Since they’re scattered all around the map to pick up, venturing out to grab them involves a bit of risk as it often leaves you exposed. On some levels, it’s often preferable to hang back and pick people off as they make a dash for powerups near the middle.

In this way, if these special abilities are the secret sauce, the inventive maps are the tasty meat. Some arenas are tiny and claustrophobic with barriers to duck behind and glass walls to protect you, while others are small villages with multiple levels and obstacles to use strategically. Dodging a ball as it comes flying at your end, swatting another right before it hits your stomach, then eliminating someone all in the manner of a few seconds is immensely satisfying.

By taking a simple concept — dodgeball — and infusing team-based strategy, tactical elements, and flashy additions like fireballs, BigBox VR has tapped into a special kind of addictive fun you don’t find in most VR games yet. And since each round is single life only (no respawns between rounds) you get to watch the rest of the match from a God-mode style spectator mode. Floating above the level, I can grab it to spin and zoom and fly around to get the best angle, watching players that look like tiny ants scurry around the battlefield. In many ways, it was just as fun to watch the game as it was to play it.

In addition to a solo mode to unlock new heads, Smashbox Arena packs a lot of punch in a whimsical package. The development team at BigBox VR has worked on several AAA video games, from Team Fortress and SOCOM to Marvel: Avengers Alliance for companies such as Valve, Sony, and Disney.

Smashbox Arena is currently slated to release on Steam for HTC Vive near the beginning of December this year and will add Oculus Rift with Touch support shortly after that. It’s currently scheduled to cost $29.99 when it releases and you can follow the game on its official website here for more information.

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