Me and Rocket League — we go way back. Waaaay back. I remember playing Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars almost a decade ago, the PS3 title that had too much going on but would eventually be refined into a glorious new form. When Rocket League first hit, in summer 2015, it was so pure that I didn't even realise the lineage at first. Here was a game that had not just been reduced down to its absolute core elements, but every single one of them had been polished and tweaked to perfection.
From day one, I've been hooked. And my long road has taken me from clunking around in Bronze to soaring like an angel in Diamond. I think I'll probably play Rocket League until I die, and not the smallest appeal of the Switch version is that it can come with me into the coffin.
Just something a little classier about Diamond rank. pic.twitter.com/q1xKNRgEJC
— Richard Stanton (@RichStanton) October 31, 2017
Yes, Rocket League on Switch. The dream game on the dream console. What could go wrong?
While collecting my thoughts on this port, developed by Panic Button Games on behalf of Psyonix, I was conscious that, when it comes to this game, I'm a bit of a snob. I have a nice gaming PC and run the game at max settings with the framerate unlocked. Over the years I've fiddled with the enormous range of options the game provides, so my field of view, the camera angle, the speed at which the camera transitions — everything's exactly how I like.
Moving from that to Switch was always going to be slightly jarring, but it would be unfair on this port to hold it to such technical standards. I say this because I want to draw a distinction between flagging up what may be fixable issues with this Switch version, and other aspects which are here to stay.
The most fundamental problem is that I use my Switch almost entirely in portable mode, but the console's screen size feels, for me, just a touch on the small side to comfortably read a Rocket League pitch. Particularly in competitive play when everything's zipping around much quicker. I don't want to over-egg this, because the game is most definitely playable and enjoyable, but throughout my whole time with this port something felt off — like it was 9/10ths of the way there, but missing something.
You can see that the developers try to mitigate this by using various visual effects to highlight the ball and other players at distance, but unfortunately these also highlight the poor anti-aliasing. In plain English, the cars now have very jagged edges around their contours and, depending on where they are on the pitch, both the vehicles and the ball can look pixellated and a bit... well, a bit crappy.
I'm sorry Rocket League, sweet baby, I mean no harm. But part of the game's whole appeal is that it's so pure and so polished. Obviously the 'big' version has had multiple years of development and post-launch support from Psyonix, which is why it shines so bright. This transfers all that work to less powerful hardware, and in the process accumulates minor issues that all add up.
Prime among them is that in certain matches I've disconnected multiple times. This is using the same wifi connection that my PC and PS4 use, on neither of which I have similar issues, so it's clearly down to this specific version of Rocket League. What's especially infuriating is that it'll drop the connection but keep you in the 'match' for a while before booting and allowing you to re-connect, often meaning your team's playing with one less for a minute or so. Many just forfeit, which goes down on your record as 'quitting.' In Ranked games the punishments for this become increasingly severe so, while I'm sure any connection issues will be fixed, they must be fixed.
There's other stuff missing here, too, some of which you'd hope to see in future — like the transparent goalposts introduced to the main game in a recent update. But it was while digging around in the menus that I started to get on with Rocket League Switch. The thing is, I don't really play singleplayer or use the practice mode much (I know, total scrub). I wanted to see what the game looked like docked and so played an AI match — it looks fine, by the way, and obviously the screen size issue disappears.
Then I went into practice mode, and was delighted to see that this version incorporates the user-created training exercises. You can download whatever you fancy in seconds (the titles are explicit, 'shot training' etc), and suddenly I was feeling it. I rarely use practice mode on PC, because when I've got time to play I want to be out there crushing the opposition. But on Switch?
I downloaded a few training modes, practicing the things I know I'm bad at (double jump takeoffs, backboarding, etc). Next thing I know, the Switch is in my bag and I'm tweaking air boosts on the train. I'm waiting in the pub for my mate, but really I'm trying to get my half-flips smoother. For the first day I had this, I was so disappointed. Then I realised my angle of approach might be wrong.
The joy of Rocket League Switch, and I guess this applies to maniacs only, is that it feels a little like a companion game to the real event. I don't think anything could ever move me away from PC and my David Bowie playlists, but the existence of this version enhances the overall experience for me. It sounds like faint praise to call this the main game's little brother, but that's kind of what it feels like.
I felt Bowie's spirit guiding me with this one. Scored some belters in my time but this was ethereal. pic.twitter.com/GTEbPT3ZtH
— Richard Stanton (@RichStanton) August 27, 2017
The whole point of Rocket League on the go, I belatedly realised, was that I could play Rocket League in a different way.
That's not to gloss over that this is a port with some issues. But it's easy to overstate them, and in the process take for granted that this extraordinarily great game now has a Switch version that's this close to getting it right. Given what we've seen with the main Rocket League, which is heavily supported by Psyonix, it's a good bet that the Switch version will see plenty of post-launch love. If you're at all hesitant, you may want to wait and see that happen. But if you know just how good this beautiful game is then, like me, you'll have to have it now.