Rocket League Sideswipe Review: A Whole New League
Adapting a popular game to play well on mobile is no easy task. Many players would love nothing more than to just see a mobile release for their favorite games, but those games aren’t built to fit the platform and can often end up leaving all but the die-hards cold. If you change things too much, though, you risk not having enough of the original game’s DNA left to pull in fans. It can truly be the worst of both worlds.
Rocket League Sideswipe instead finds the best of both worlds, creating an original game that is very much its own thing, but which still has plenty of Rocket League DNA to feel just right for players who love Psyonix’s claim to fame. While not a perfect experience, so far, it’s nailing the easy to pick up, hard to master feel the series has become known for.
A New Dimension
Like in the original Rocket League, Sideswipe is still fundamentally soccer with rocket-powered cars. As absurd as that sounds, it’s managed to spawn a game that has held the attention of gamers for over six years now and shows no sign of stopping. It’s one of the few multiplayer games I still regularly return to. Sideswipe might be joining that small group of games.
In moving to mobile platforms, a few things had to change, however. Instead of a full 3D arena for you to rocket around in, you’ll now be on a 2D plane. While there’s still a goal on either side of the arena, they’re elevated a bit off the ground now, which works better for aerial play and solves the problem of hitting a ball straight ahead into a goal being simply too easy in 2D. Matches have been shortened slightly as well, down to a mere two minutes from the five minutes of the original game. This is the perfect amount of time to still have the option for strategy and the chance to come back if you get down a couple of goals but still feel comfortable as a pick up and play title on mobile.
Gone are the three-on-three matches which were the backbone of the original Rocket League. Instead, you’ll now play either one on one or two on two, which keeps things a tad bit less chaotic than having six players flying around in what is fundamentally a pretty small area.
New Ways To Play
The second the countdown ends, though, you know you’re playing Rocket League still. You’ll boost off the start, perhaps doing a couple of flips along the way to reach the ball first and get a good start on positioning. If your backline isn’t ready, a bad bounce still can send a ball into the goal within seconds, and players still need to get the feel of rotating down to protect their own goal while leading an effective attack.
Spending time in the sky isn’t new to Sideswipe, but it’s more important here. You’ll never be a pro at Rocket League if you can’t master aerial play, but you can compete if you get good enough on the ground and can get up just enough to make a block now and then, at least until you reach the game’s highest levels. That’s not the case here. Getting up in the air is crucial. You’ll need to be challenging foes in the sky regularly if you don’t want them getting far too many easy shots.
The good news is that aerial play is far easier to learn here. Even after all these years, I’m only competent at it in the main game, but I felt like a natural in only a few hours in Sideswipe. The game’s touchscreen controls are simple yet highly effective. You move with your thumb on the left side of the screen while the other side offers a mere two buttons to jump or boost. Simply point where you want and boost to get up high. The timing is the most challenging part, but even that feels easier than in Sideswipe’s big brother.
Starting From Scratch
The one area that left me cold was the lack of interaction between vehicles. You drive right over your opponents, unable to hit them out of the way or knock them off course. You can use their vehicles by hitting the ball off them, but that’s the extent of it. A huge part of Rocket League is interacting with other cars, using them in interesting ways. There’s real incentive to get physical with your opponents. While that might be harder to make work in 2D, with the smaller arenas that come with it, it leaves something feeling missing.
While Rocket League Sideswipe didn’t bring all the modes the original game has ballooned to have over the years, it starts out with three options for players. One-on-one and two on two standard versions of the game are here, as is an adaptation of the Hoops mode, which instead of a goal leaves a hoop on each end of the field, requiring you to get the ball off the ground and down through that hoop.
A New Favorite
As someone who never quite took to Hoops in Rocket League, I was surprised by how much I enjoy it here. It may be my favorite mode. Perhaps it’s the fact that aerial play feels so much easier as that’s absolutely required here. The ball even starts high in the air. It could be that this mode always stopped at two players per team, so it feels like a natural inclusion. Regardless, it’s definitely what I’ve played the most.
Two on two matches in the game’s standard matches are still a ton of fun as well. I had a bit less of a good time in the one-on-one mode, but then, I’ve never been the biggest fan of that in the original game either. One of my favorite things about Rocket League is the teamwork, setting up my team, and being able to make the little plays that don’t necessarily show up on the scoreboard but lead to winning. There’s little room to that when you’re all alone. Some of the complexity from three-player teams is already gone, I don’t want to lose even more. Still, if you’re struggling with the game’s mechanics, this mode can be an excellent way to learn. You can only rely on yourself, and I felt myself quickly getting better and cleaning up weaknesses in my game simply because I had no choice if I wanted to win.
My overall experience playing online was positive too. Matches are found in seconds most of the time, no matter what mode I choose. Once in a while, I’ll get a game that has a bit of lag, but it’s rare. Far more often than not, this is a smooth experience. While there’s a store where you can buy all kinds of cosmetic upgrades, the game throws a fair amount of in-game currency at you for free, and a free battle pass gives you a lot of stuff as you play. There’s even a mystery item option in the store, which periodically you can grab at no charge. Grabbing the Fez for the top of my car which I’ve used in the main game for years, put a huge smile on my face.
Rocket League Sideswipe isn’t a perfect game, but it fundamentally captures what players love about Rocket League. That’s no small thing when we’re talking about a 2D mobile adaptation of a 3D multiplayer hit. With quick matches that are perfect for the platform, this is how I want to play Rocket League on my phone. A few more modes, and perhaps even one where you can directly interact with other cars, would be the cherry on top of this sundae, but fans of the series should definitely check out Sideswipe.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Android (reviewed), iOS; Publisher: Psyonix Studios; Developer: Psyonix; Players: 4; Released: November 29th, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: Free
Full disclosure: This review is based on a free version of Rocket League Sideswipe