Disc Jam wears its inspiration on its sleeve. Until recently, if you were to ask the gamer on the street of they have heard of the Neo-Geo title Windjammers, the majority of them would think you made it up. But following exposure on websites like Giant Bomb and YouTube channels such as WWE SuperStar Xavier Wood's Up Up Down Down, a quiet, almost ironic following developed for the game. What made Windjammers interesting, however, was the difficulty in acquiring a way to play the game. Original carts were scarce and expensive and a labyrinthian licencing issue with original developer Data East stopped any hope of a port to modern consoles. This left a void for independent developers to enter into the space that has been left by Windjammers and attempt to serve that audience. Disc Jam puts a spin (pun very much intended) on the formula by adopting a behind the back perspective, coupled with an alteration of timing. Now that developers DotEmu has finally acquired the rights to re-release the original game on Playstation 4, how does a game that takes such inspiration from the original hold up?
Disc Jam is a game of beautiful simplicity. Players stand on each side of a court, throwing a spinning disc towards the other, with the object of hitting the back wall. The first player to reach fifty points is the winner. Like Rocket League, the initial appeal of this game is incredibly easy to explain to people. Just like Rocket League was "football with cars" Disc Jam is "tennis with Frisbees".
Players are shown from third person camera and are able to slide, block, influence the trajectory of shots. It's the complexity of the shot variations that will have players returning to hone their skills. While the two standard inputs are either a regular shot or a lob shot, it is possible to add spin with the right stick. This opens up the play in ways that'll have players running from each side of the court trying to catch a shot, only to be caught out by a sudden curve of the disc. The game features almost Skate like inputs in order to pull off some of the most complex shots, but basic curves are also able to be performed using the shoulder buttons. The third person camera occasionally results in some perception issues where the disc will appear to be coming directly towards a player, only to miss them by a few feet, this is obviously not an issue in traditional windjammers and does make me wish there were more camera options, although I suspect balancing as well as some artistic licence stopped this being the case.
In another homage to Windjammers, there are several "Super Throws" that are used when the player builds up their block and their opponent's shot is coming right towards them. This will cause the disc to fly up into the air, for the player to charge up and unleash these deadly manoeuvres. While each of these shots is effective, it is clear that some will be used more than others, due to their unpredictable nature.
The final layer of complexity is based on how players receive shots. The length of time it takes players to release a shot after it is received effects the power and speed of the subsequent shot, chain enough of these together and the shots become "juiced" making them even more difficult for the opponent to receive. These rallies become crucial to the game, as each time the disc passes across the central barrier, a number of points each rally is worth increases.
The game features one versus one matches, as well as doubles games for four players. The doubles games can be fun, but reliance on another human player can interrupt the rhythm of the volleys back and forth between players, meaning many points are scored from confusion and error, rather than well-skilled manoeuvres. Also, connection issues mean that if one of the four players has a bad connection, the quality of the gameplay can range from stuttering to unplayable. Thankfully in single player, I encountered little to no issues with latency.
Disc Jam features four playable characters, each with some customizable skins and emotes, but ultimately the difference is negligible. While each character is given a bio listing their strengths and weaknesses, this rarely manifests in the game. Movement animation change and the characters themselves are competently designed, but don't expect to fall in love with any of them like you would a hero from Overwatch. Speaking of Overwatch, the game also features a gashapon machine style loot system. Each game played earns the player "J" which can be redeemed for a random piece of loot. This feels tacked on and needless. A Rocket League style "every match unlocks something" loot system would fit her comfortably. Thankfully, as of the time of writing, there is no way to spend real money in order to purchase any of the loot.
The main menu features a looping piece of instrumental music, which is perfectly fine but will quickly get annoying when waiting for lobbies to populate. A playlist of several tracks like Rocket Leagues techno-synth influence soundtrack would go a long way. While the game currently only features one arena, a splash screen on the main menu does declare that the two person team behind the project do intend to continue to support the project for years, so hopefully, this lack of any real variety can be alleviated by updates.
The modes in Disc Jam are extremely limited. Players can engage in random online matches, but these matches feature no ranks, no sense of progression and no stats. Each match ultimately feels singular and meaningless. This is a shame as the gameplay itself is so incredibly fun that a league progression system like in FIFA Ultimate Team would go a long way to drive engagement. With little reason to return other than the promise of more loot, I can see interest waning quickly.
The game features limited offline features such as split screen and LAN. These are nice inclusions, but if you're not interested in playing online, this really isn't a game for you.
There are elements of Disc Jam that feel like an early access release. The gameplay is solid as a rock, utterly addictive and intuitive in a way that hasn't been seen in some time. That's why the lack of any real progression and the very limited suite of customization options disappoints so much. I have a strong feeling that in six months, Disc Jam will be a fully featured product with reason to return that goes beyond the excellent gameplay. For a game that takes such inspiration from one specific title, it may be for the best if the developers take a look at other multiplayer hits like it's Playstation Plus sibling Rocket League in order to flesh the game out. I'm sure they'll get there, I just really hope it's before the online community starts to thin out because as a pure gameplay experience, it's one of the best in a while.
|+ Excellent gameplay||– Extremely limited features|
|+ Simple, intuitive controls.||– Poor customisation options|
|+ Massive potential for updates.||– Little single player experience|