I know what you're thinking, so don't deny it. It's easy to judge Smashbox Arena right off the bat. It looks like an HD version of Roblox with an artistic direction guided by the philosophy "let's throw everything generic at the wall and see what happens." The visuals are a bear to get past that speak for the game's general quality, but as the old adage goes, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover...well, not entirely. The title suffers from an overall lack of depth and creativity, but if you can gather some friends together online, it's surprisingly smooth gameplay can make for a fun, competitive romp in short bursts.
Smashbox Arena is a multiplayer first-person shooter packed with power-ups. With two teams of three, players eliminate the opposition with plentiful balls scattered across maps or special pickups that can make you a fast threat. You use two PlayStation Move controllers to aim and fire, but it's always a good idea to leave one hand free for teleporting. While you're picking things up with one gun, you can cast out panels that teleport you to wherever they end up landing, which is your only means of instant locomotion. Since they can only be shot so far, the maps are considerably small, but they do have a fair amount of verticality and objects to use to your advantage to flank enemies or take cover.
Once I started the single-player mode, I was astonished by how nerve-wracking some matches could be. An enemy can wind up behind you at a moment's notice, and you'll be frantically teleporting about for balls or power-ups if you miss your target. Things are only made more complicated since anyone can intercept a ball in mid-flight or use a ball locked into his or her gun to block an incoming one. Balls can also ricochet for a short amount of time, power-ups will randomly spawn across maps, and the tension is palpable as you'll wait for a teleport to complete in front of a loaded foe.
The reason why matches can be so exciting is that with the teleportation, you need to frantically look this way and that to make sure you didn't happen to end up in someone else's face. You'll need to think ahead as you predict the other team's movements as they shoot out their teleport panels, use the environment wisely to peek from behind a tree or wall, and so forth. The game reaches its full potential for excitement with a group of six players wildly shooting about and using power-ups like a sniper rifle, shield, or homing missile. If there's anything that Smashbox Arena reminded me, it's that simple concepts and game design are sometimes all a developer needs to create a legitimately fun experience. Besides a bit of tracking issues with the PlayStation Move controllers when I turned around, the game runs smoothly.
However, if simplicity isn't backed up by some creativity and content, a game won't go far in terms of lasting appeal, and that's where Smashbox Arena stumbles. Its single-player campaign isn't even a campaign, being more of a series of matches against AI on the same multiplayer maps with the same characters. By the time you get past the Easy mode, the AI will start to lock on to you almost instantly with uncanny precision from afar.
The only purpose for this mode is to unlock new heads for your character with iconic examples such as anthropomorphic animals and a pear. I decided that I could live with myself by not unlocking all of them and moved on to the multiplayer mode. In my time with the game, there were never enough people to even fill up one full lobby. I even tried multiple servers for other regions and found that nearly all of them were vacant with the exception of a whopping nine players on the East Coast of the US. The problem is that BigBox VR could have done so much more for the solid foundation it laid in Smashbox Arena. Why are there only six power-ups? Is there a reason there aren't more modes such as Capture the Flag or King of the Hill? Why don't any of the maps have moving platforms or cover to bring more intensity to matches?
A lack of depth for the game's non-existent player base on PlayStation VR is sure to blame, but I can't stress how harmful the visual and audio trappings are to its appeal. The maps' designs may be passable, but the assets are horrifically unoriginal and bland. The character models are ugly, too. There's overlay text across environments that look like they were copied from a word processor and slapped onto environments. The voice acting and dialogue for the characters are awkward, and many of the effects and music sound like they were pulled from the first results page of audio libraries. You'd think the developer would have taken some time to polish up the visuals and expand the game since its release on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. However, it still looks like a lackluster university game project when it could easily be so much more.
I walked into Smashbox Arena with dread, but I came out realizing that it was more fun than I thought it would be. There's plenty of potential for exciting and silly moments with its simple yet effective gameplay. However, the game frustratingly doesn't take itself further with additional modes, features, and much-needed polish. You could have a good few sessions with friends if everyone happens to own PlayStation VR headsets, but as it stands, Smashbox Arena is a bit hard to recommend.
Our Smashbox Arena review was conducted on PlayStation VR with a code provided by the developers. It is also available on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. For more VR fun, be sure to check out our other recent PSVR reviews!
Smashbox Arena's core gameplay makes for tension-filled multiplayer showdowns, proving that simple design is all you need sometimes. However, dearths of content, modes, and polish sell it short when it could shoot for so much more.(Review Policy)
- Simple Yet Effective Gameplay
- Smooth Controls
- Comfortable VR Experience
- Bare-bones Features and Content
- No Player Base
- Directionless Art Direction
- Poor Assets and Sound Design