Smashbox Arena is like a goofy PlayStation VR mix of SOCOM and dodgeball. Wielding two required PlayStation Move motion controllers, you’re armed with suction weapons that can be used to catch balls and propel them in the opposite direction. Your goal is to fling said spherical shapes in the direction of your opponent in order to take them out of the game.
Matches adopt a three-versus-three format, with bots filling out any blank slots online. You move around the relatively small maps by firing balls out of your hand cannons and teleporting to the position that they fall in. To be honest, it’s not our favourite means of getting about – it’s quite slow – but it works fine enough and mitigates any motion sickness issues.
You can obviously move on the spot to dodge balls, and it can be quite fun deflecting attacks from your opponents then quickly turning the tables. Matches are played in a kind of first-to-five format, with a point earned each time you successfully clear out the opposing team. One neat touch is that you can view the map as though it’s a diorama when you’ve been eliminated, watching to see if your team can pull a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Power-ups on the map such as explosives can be deadly, and give you an incentive to move around rather than remain in a single position. One really neat touch is that the online lobbies are completely interactive, so you can practice your skills with other online strangers before hopping into a match. That’s if you can find one, of course – the servers aren't exactly heaving right now.
As mentioned, the title does pad out rosters with bots if necessary, and we were able to play several quality matches with only a handful of people on the servers. That said, the big concern here is that the playerbase could die out quickly, and considering the single player component consists of little more than a string of bot matches, it’s well worth taking into account.
The art’s also really bad. The game looks like it’s been built with assets purchased from the Unity store, boasting an instructor named Mr Pear (a literal pear with eyes) and a spate of unlockable characters who are supposed to be rewards but look more like virtual reality nightmares. Environments don’t really fare much better, with maps ranging from a space station to a treehouse type location. It’s clean and clear in virtual reality, but there’s no style to any of it whatsoever.
At least the PlayStation Move tracking is spot on, rarely ever drifting at all. We did struggle when turning our back to the PlayStation Camera – a technical limitation of PlayStation VR, and not the fault of the game at all – but we later discovered that the face buttons on the motion controllers can be used to turn in increments, so there’s no real need to look directly behind you anyway.
Smashbox Arena’s knockout gameplay is entertaining online – assuming you can find a match. While there is a small community on the servers right now, it’s difficult to predict how long that will persist, and thus purchasing is a bit of a risk. Unless you can convince friends to pick up the package, then be warned that the single player content is thin, even if the core gameplay loop is undeniably fun. More work in the art department could have elevated the release enormously, so ultimately you’re left with an ugly but enjoyable multiplayer game that will be defined by the number of people who stick with it beyond launch.