High Horse Entertainment, the tiny two-person team behind futuristic PlayStation 4 frisbee-'em-up, is a big fan of two things: Windjammers and Rocket League. It's hard not to compare the launch of this sphere slingin' sports title with Psyonix's soccer cars – it's launching as a PlayStation Plus freebie and is even structured similarly to the iconic indie, after all. Unfortunately, while the gameplay loop's pretty good, the polish isn't quite there.
This feels like the Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars of Disc Jam's lifespan: it needs just a little more time in the oven. Much like the aforementioned, its visuals look washed out despite it running on the excellent Unreal Engine 4 – and everything from the menus to the character designs feel half-baked. It's almost like the developer needed an extra artist and visual effects boffin on its team to take things to the next level.
Still, the action is enjoyable. This is basically Windjammers from a behind-the-goal perspective with a few new mechanics thrust in. General play sees you whipping a frisbee backwards and forwards, attempting to bamboozle your opponent and score a goal. Lobs and drop shots can be countered by fantastical finishers, while a shield enables you to either bat the disc over the net or lift the discus into the air, allowing you to segue into a super move.
When matches involve competent players, it's a joy to watch: characters sprint and slide all over the stage, adding curve to their shots in order to catch their adversaries off guard. It's fast and frantic, and even though it does take a little time to master, it's relatively accessible, too. The netcode can be dicey at times, with the matchmaking sometimes slow and lag a problem in places, but it's generally good enough. And there's always split-screen if the servers give you jip.
The problem comes from the balancing, then. Rocket League's beauty is that, despite offering multiple vehicle types, they all operate in exactly the same way: boost speed, jump height, acceleration – all identical. Disc Jam, meanwhile, serves up four fairly ugly characters – but realistically you're only going to come up against all-rounders Makenna and Gator online as they're by far the best. Ninja Haruka's improved mobility can't make up for an awful slide, while the muscular Stanton's power can't offset a lack of pace.
It's a shame that the studio plumped up for these statistical tweaks because when all things are even the game's pretty great. Reading your opponent and defending into a super or volleying just over the net as your foe fumbles about back court is brilliant fun, and the way that the scoring system takes into account long rallies is inspired, too – it means that there's always a comeback on if you play a great couple of points. Or it enables some tactics where you can intentionally cede points early into a rally if you're way out in the lead.
But, as alluded earlier, it just doesn't feel properly finished. Take a look at the teensy credits and you'll glean a greater appreciation for the achievements of this two-person team, but the bland music and flat visuals mean that the title never has that je ne sais quois that it really needs. Some silly rag doll physics definitely add to the fun of things, but it's just not enough; scoring goals feels epic in Rocket League, but it's just not the same here – even when you're killing it on a doubles team.
Disc Jam has all of the ingredients of a classic but it just doesn't feel fully cooked. Flat visuals and some balance issues prevent this disc tossing sim from reaching the same highs as Rocket League, even if the gameplay loop is fairly accessible and sporting some great depth. That said, if this is High Horse Entertainment's Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars moment, then we can't wait to see what it delivers next time it takes to the field.