App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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In case you weren't aware, Rocket League is kind of a big deal. This multiplayer sports game featuring high-tech cars, a comically large ball, and high-flying acrobatics exploded in popularity upon release in 2015 and still has a massive playerbase that keeps it among the top 25 most watched games on Twitch today. Considering this, it wasn't entirely surprising to see Rocket League Sideswipe hit the App Store last week. All mega-popular console and PC games try to find some way to capitalize on the mobile market eventually, but what is surprising about Sideswipe is its approach to doing this. There's absolutely nothing in Sideswipe that feels cynical. It's just a really great new flavor of Rocket League that is completely free.
Rocket League Sideswipe maintains the basic setup and rules as Rocket League. Two teams face off in an arena and try to score on each other by putting a giant ball into the opposing team's goal point. All players drive car-like vehicles that also have the ability to go airborne via a launching jump maneuver and rocket boosters. Much like other sports, the winning team is whichever one manages to score the most points before the game clock expires.
Action-oriented titles on mobile can be tough to control via touch, but Psyonix has made a lot of little tweaks to this basic formula to make Sideswipe as touch-friendly as possible. The most notable of these changes is that all matches play out on a 2D plane, which removes any need to futz with camera controls or vehicle cornering. There's also indicators that extend from the vehicle you are controling that allow you to view the way you are angling the virtual joystick so you never have to look down to check your hand placement during play.
These changes to Rocket League definitely simplify things, but Sideswipe still definitely feels like a robust multiplayer game with a high skill ceiling. Across two minute matches, there are ways to read and react to your opponents' behavior and coordinate with your teammates to pull out victories, both of which become increasingly important as you begin to raise your multiplayer rank. This holds true for all three of the modes currently in Sideswipe, two of which are soccer-like arena setups in a 1v1 or 2v2 format and the third being a 2v2 Hoops mode that feels more like playing basketball.
Every match of Sideswipe feels intense and competitive because the simplicity of the game rules and dynamics of the vehicles allow for all of the most exciting possibilities of a typical sporting event, even considering the short match times. To date I've already logged a good number of blowouts, nailbiters, and back-and-forth matches, and reaching these outcomes has yet to feel rote, random, or unfair in any way. For any players shying away due to virtual controls, know they are surprisingly intuitive by default and offer robust customization options. Sideswipe also features controller support, though I have not felt the need to use a controller over touch.
Fun and fair
Outside of being a fun twist on traditional Rocket League, everything outside of Sideswipe's matches is similarly focused on making for a fun mobile experience that's easy to hop into over and over again at your convenience. Players can queue for multiple modes at a time and start queuing for their next match before leaving the stat screen at the end of the previous match.
More important than any of these convenience features though is Sideswipe's progression model. Like most big multiplayer games these days, this mobile version of Rocket League operates in seasons and rewards players with cosmetic goodies as they grind currency to fill a meter. What's so nice here is that none of these progression mechanics are tied to monetization at all and all of the rewards are fun ways to customize your appearance but won't impact any in-game abilities you have at your disposal. This makes Sideswipe perfectly enjoyable no matter how competitive you want to get with it, even if you change your mind or hop into playing it after a long hiatus. Any time you boot it up, you can have fun and feel like the only thing you've missed might be some fancy tires or a name card, and no one can pay or otherwise grind to earn some gameplay advantage over you.
The bottom line
The way Psyonix has brought Rocket League to mobile is somewhat unprecedented. As opposed to simply porting an existing game and/or wrapping a storefront around some companion grindfest, Sideswipe is an exercise in restraint and respect for the mobile platform as well as their own franchise. Instead of leveraging their brand awareness to try and squeeze money out of people through their phones, they just made a fun game. Maybe more people should do that, because I honestly can't think of many more refined and enjoyable multiplayer experiences than Rocket League Sideswipe, mobile or otherwise.