Tell him about the Twinkie, Ray
Imagine a future where all sports are played like #IDARB. Fields of play will be ginormous, sprawling expanses adorned with platforms of variable structural integrity. There’ll be goals the size of hockey nets, and the points awarded will vary depending on the distance of your shot. Commentators will scream arbitrary music and film references, and fans will be able to directly influence the outcome of the game.
#IDARB is riotous, stupid fun. Played by two teams of up to four players, you choose from teams of musical instruments, farmyard animals, and licensed video game characters, and try to score more points than your opponent. Part platformer, part, erm, sports, you fight for control of the ball before trying to carry it across the map and score. Arenas are vast, and jumping from platform to platform without losing possession forms part of the challenge.
#IDARB, standing for It Draws A Red Box, is a game fashioned through social media feedback. Starting out as a contextless red box, followers of developer Other Ocean have been able to make suggestions and help mould the game into its current form. And the social media influence is something that #IDARB takes to heart, allowing players to directly affect the outcomes of contests – live – as they are played.
The game incorporates the use of Hash Bombs. Although they sound like a thing that just got legalised in Colorado, Hash Bombs are commands that people can input on Twitter or Twitch to make life difficult for players in a given arena. The list is extensive; and, rather than a gimmick, actually forms an integral part of the match.
You might find platforms collapsing beneath you, the screen might go dark, giant lasers might appear, or dozens of decoy balls might suddenly be dumped onto the screen. Of course, this can open your match up to trolling. During one of my games, I was repeatedly subjected to the #boo Hash Bomb – which, unfortunately, blocks the entire screen temporarily.
It’s still a unique and largely positive mechanic, though, and the option is there to turn off the online stuff and rely instead on automated Hash Bombs. Also, tread lightly with the Twitter use, lest you lose all your followers or Twitter thinks you’re a spam bot.
Even without the social media hooks, #IDARB is an enjoyable couch multiplayer game. You’re limited to jumping, passing, shooting and tackling, and the straightforward controls help make #IDARB all the more approachable. It’s the kind of game that can be understood instantly, but equally one that is nuanced enough to reward extended play, particularly in a team environment.
Naturally enough, your instinct might be to rush for the ball at every opportunity; but, unless your playing by yourself, oftentimes the best option will be to sit back and make yourself available for the pass, or to take up a defensive position and guard your goal. Treat #IDARB as if you’re applying for a middle managerial role in human resources: be a good team player with strong communication skills.
Of course, not everyone has eight Xbox One controllers and a house full of people to get the most out of the local experience. You can take your game online, but you can only play against, rather than with, other players on Xbox Live. Essentially this means that matches are still limited by the number of controllers you have to hand. If you have two, for example, you’ll only be able to play against teams of two online, rather than in one team of four.
It’s handy, then, that #IDARB is still enjoyable in a 1v1 setting. While the single-player element feels like a rather simple tutorial for the online play, playing 1v1 online still feels fevered, if not as frenetic as with more players.
This is because #IDARB controls really, really well. Platforms are spaced just far enough apart that jumps are missable; there’s a (dare I say it) Super Meat Boy-esque quality to the mid-air adjustments you can make to your jumps; characters are weighty but not heavy; and the ball pings about with a skittish awkwardness that makes losing and regaining possession a frequent challenge.
Shooting is a fine art, too. You’re rewarded more points the farther away you score from, and given bonus points for alley-oops and bounces the ball takes en route to goal. You can walk the ball in for a point, but the right distance and a few bounces might make for an elusive fifteen-point shot.
Online still seems to be inconsistent a few days after launch. There’s intermittent issues with Twitter connectivity, although nothing too drastic, and there’s a variable level of lag in online games. Across a sample of five, two were fine, one disconnected, and two experienced moderate latency and noticeable frame rate drops.
Still, it’s worth soldiering through. As enjoyable as games like Samurai Gunn, Gang Beasts and TowerFall are, each one relies much more on an abundance of local players. Where #IDARB is certainly at its best in this scenario, too, a lower player count still feels like #IDARB, rather than #IDARB-lite.
It feels slightly daft to lament #IDARB’s limited single-player content, given that it’s essentially a multiplayer game. Still, it would have been nice to be able to engage in AI matches outside of the game’s brief story mode. If you want a game against the AI, you’ll have to hop into the campaign and find it there.
There’s essentially no AI 1v1 option as the only match available is story mode 1-1, which is obviously very easy. Equally, playing the latter matches with six or seven bots feels a little flat. Oftentimes, with so many computer-controlled players to contend with, games will just pass you by.
The single-player is something of a tertiary feature, though, so its limits aren’t too troubling. It’s more of a shame that online matchmaking options are similarly limited. There’s just the one type of arena, although the Hash Bomb feature combats that sufficiently. It’d be nice, too, if there were more modes to engage with.
If you’re flying solo, you can only play 1v1. It’d be nice to be able to accept handicap matches against larger teams, for example, and test out your skills. #IDARB is a game that continues to evolve, though, and further updates have been promised – so here’s hoping.
#IDARB’s comedic sensibilities are noteworthy, too. The selectable teams are a ridiculous collection of animals, mothers, cops, breakfast items and industry related personnel. You can create and import your own characters, too, so if you want to create a phallus and testes, for example, then the world is your wrinkly pink oyster.
The commentary is excellent. Other Ocean has pasted some kind of stadium announcer filter over it all, which makes your two-point shot sound way more important than it actually is. Similarly, commentators will shout things like: “Here’s my number! Call me, maybe!” or: “Tell him about the Twinkie, Ray!” randomly referencing elements of pop culture in the most wonderfully stupid way.
There’s just no reward as sweet as a goal met with: “We got ourselves a bleeder!” or “This is Sparta!” It’s unapologetic dumbness of the highest order. The fact that some of them are partial misquotes helps further.
Laughs apart, the overall sound design is superb. Making a five-point shot amid all the anarchy is tough enough, but the thunderous rumbling, crowd roar, and aforementioned commentary – all backed up by chugging guitar riffs – makes you feel like a king.
#IDARB is wilfully dumb, lovingly nurtured, frenetic and atmospheric in equal measure. There’s a need for more content, but #IDARB’s status as a game evolving in the public eye comes as much as a result of forward-thinking development as anything else. The intrinsic use of social tools is not only creative but uniquely prescient, and the business of actually jumping around and doing stuff is as enjoyable as anything in the couch multiplayer genre. Imagine a future where more games are like #IDARB.
+ Controls wonderfully
+ Looks and sounds great
+ Super dumb
- Single-player feels light
- Limited matchmaking options