Move over Dark Souls. I’ve found something way more challenging than you could ever hope to be: finding three other people willing to play local-only, multiplayer-only indies with me. I swear to God, I think crossing the Sahara with a pair of honey badgers eating my legs off would be easier. Thankfully, my mutant superpower (that’s right, I’m a mutant. Don’t act surprised) is the ability to guilt anyone into doing anything for me. It’s way better than having metal claws. “Brian, I could really go for a hotdog from 7-11 right now.” “Oh for God’s sake, it’s 2:25 in the morning and you don’t even like 7-11’s hot..”
UNLEASH THE PUPPY DOG EYES
“.. did you say you wanted one or two? I’ll get two just to be safe.”
It’s fucking awesome. Sadly, my friends have acquired immunity to this, at least when it comes to playing indies. They always manage to find themselves busy, or sick, or in a traffic accident, or accidentally shooting their pinky toe off. Psssh, some friends.
Thankfully, Sportsfriends is a party game, where the minimum skill level doesn’t need to be quite as high. In fact, I think one of the best ways to tell how good a party game can be is by how accessible it is for people who would rather saw off their own tongue than spend their free time playing games. So I hit up my parents and a couple of my business partners. They said no. I unleashed the Puppy Dog Eyes. They asked if they should bring pizza.
The field was as follows.
Cathy: 24-years-old. Somewhat noted for being a bit of a gamer. Except when people disagree with her reviews, at which point she is clearly not a gamer and how can anyone not see that? SPECIAL QUIRK: eats M&Ms by shoving the whole pack into her cheeks and sucking the shell-juice through the gaps in her teeth.
Oscar: 64-years-old. Known to sire snarky game critics. Back in the early days of home consoles, when they were still considered a bit of a novelty, he would buy the new ones, play them once or twice, then never touch them again. Though he actually did buy a Vita, so if Sony is curious, that’s where one of the other eleven that sold went. SPECIAL QUIRK: is incapable of cooking food that isn’t so hot that it makes your shoes smoke.
Melinda: 45-years-old. Despite her daughter being obsessed with games, she never actually touched one herself until the Wii came out. Today, she actually plays a lot of iPhone games and has three-starred every level in every Angry Birds game. SPECIAL QUIRK: misspelled her own middle name for at least seven consecutive years.
A.J.: 65 years old. My Godfather. How often does he play games? He still refers to all consoles as “Ataris.” That should give you a clue. SPECIAL QUIRK: His kids carry the names R.J. and S.J. Because A.J. is a J.A.
Christian: 47-years-old. One of my business partners. He has a PlayStation 3 and an Xbox One. His cool as shit seven-year-old son Gabriel also has a 3DS, and ran through a few levels of Zelda: Four Swords with me. Christian occasionally shows up at my house just to help me play a two-player game I’m reviewing at Indie Gamer Chick when nobody else has time. Cool guy. SPECIAL QUIRK: Didn’t kill me when I replaced his business cards with ones identifying him as “Christian: Blood Angel.” (slang term for a shady angel investor)
Reggie: 39-years-old. Hates me calling him “the Regginator.” Has a PlayStation 3 that he uses for everything but gaming. Though he does have a decent assortment of games on his Galaxy tablet. SPECIAL QUIRK: He’s the only person that can get away with calling me Kitty Cat. I don’t even let Brian do it.
Why five other players? Well, because there’s a game in Sportsfriends that takes place not on the screen, but in your living room. Which is probably where your screen is, come to think about it, but work with me here. In this game, you and other players must brawl each-other in an attempt to cause your opponents to move their controllers too much. I had two thoughts. One: I should totally sue the developers for plagiarism, since wrestling over the television remote was clearly inspired by every TV viewing session in the Vice household.
“I want to watch American Idol!”
“No, we’re watching American Pickers!”
“Hey, put on American Bandstand!”
“For fuck’s sake A.J., how many times do we have to tell you, that show has been off the air for twenty-four years now and Dick Clark is dead!”
Punches are thrown. Teeth are lost. The cops are called. We ultimately always settle on some awful NBC comedy before we all go to our respective rooms to sulk. Sportsfriends turned THAT into a game and they owe me royalties on it.
Second, a full contact video game sounds fun if you’re young and spry. I might have the young thing going for me, but after a couple of neck and back surgeries, I’m anything but spry. So I decided that I would make them play the full contact video game and take bets on which pair would end up going the longest time without speaking to each other afterwards. Vegas had my parents as the odds-on favorites, but having worked with Reggie and A.J., I know they’ve brickwalled each-other over lesser things than a concussion and a broken wrist and slapped $20 on them.
Sadly, we never got a chance to play it. On PlayStation 3, “Joust” hints that the game is optimized for use with Move controllers. Four of them, to be precise. Teehee, give me a second.
I’m sorry, but you guys actually thought someone out there actually would own four of those ping-pong-ball on an off-brand Wiimote controllers? The same controllers that Target couldn’t clearance out at $5 with a game bundled with them because nobody would be caught dead holding them?
Thankfully, Sportsfriends is also on PS4. Except we don’t yet have four controllers for it either. We did go to Target to buy them, but they were sold out of all but one. Even after poaching the controller from the PS4 at our office, we were left with three. So I settled for trying to get the guys to use the decidedly less optimized PS3 controllers. I still wanted to see the boys fight to the death, but when I showed them a video of what they were about to partake in, they all refused. Reggie said “I dunno, Cathy. This seems like some kind of scam by Sony to cause broken controllers and drive accessory sales.” I asked the developer if that was true. He smiled and dismissively changed the subject. Okay, no he didn’t.
Oddly enough, Joust is the game on Sportsfriends that the majority of people have been hyped to play the most. It’s had a lot of good reports from various trade shows. Yet, I’ve encountered a lot of people who want to play it but can’t. And it’s almost never because of lack of enough controllers. It’s an issue of space. Playing it will typically require, at the very least, rearranging furniture. Even then, for many, there just isn’t enough clearance to play it without risk of injury or damage to property, especially if your friends are hyper competitive. To put how big a problem this is in perspective, even one of the game’s programmers doesn’t have enough room at his place to play it. If you live in an apartment, forget about it. But hell, I have a pretty dang big house and I question the feasibility of being able to pull it off. So, we skipped it.
Sportsfriends has three other games. First up is Barabariball. The best way to describe it is “Smash Bros. as a ball game.” Playing 1-on-1 or 2-on-2, players are on a platform, and there’s a ball. You must brawl with your opponents while trying to throw the ball off their side of the platform and into the water. You score a point when the ball fully sinks beneath the waves. You can do multiple jumps in a row, so if the ball winds up in the drink, you can dive in and save it. If you sink beneath the water, there’s a penalty you have to wait out before respawning. You can set the game to go by a time limit, a set number of points, or a combination of both.
I really enjoyed Barabariball, but I think I would have liked it a lot more if I had been playing with more skillful people. Sportsfriends positions itself as a party game, and the best party games are ones that can be enjoyed by anyone of any skill level. Chompy Chomp Chomp is the all-time champion in that regard. Barabariball can have the most complex strategies if you have the right people to play with. I had my parents and business partners, none of whom are regular gamers, so rounds quickly degenerated into wild button-mashing with about as much finesse as a three-toed sloth on roller blades. Of the three games I could play, Barabariball probably has the highest ceiling for enjoyment, but it’s also the toughest for non-gamers to enjoy. The team I was on won easily every single time, and I was even able to shut-out Daddy and Christian (the two most skilled players besides me) single-handedly while having nobody control my partner. If you have regular gamers to play with, this is probably the one you’ll spend the most time with. If not, you might actually want to skip this one.
Next up is Super Pole Riders. No, it’s not based on the Pole Riders event from Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. It’s another ball game. Here, each player has a pole that they must use to propel themselves into the air to smack a ball tethered to a line. Teams must swat at the ball until they’re able to score it in the opponent’s goal. On paper, this sounds like the most complicated game, and I figured my gang would struggle even more with this than they did with Barabariball. But actually, this was the big hit of Sportsfriends with my group. Everyone quickly got the hang of it, and pretty soon, while teaming with my mother, we found ourselves flinging each-other over the team of Reggie and A.J. using some pretty awesome double-team tactics. The guys quickly caught on and soon they were doing it too. We had some pretty dang competitive rounds. Mommy and me then watched as Daddy and Christian also quickly got the hang of it. A quick survey on Twitter confirmed that this is the favored game by the majority of Sportsfriends owners, which kind of surprised me. I figured it would be Barabariball. My theory is, you’ve seen games like it before. Super Pole Riders is a truly insane idea that you would have to be mad to come up with.
Also, they need to totally make it into a real sport.
Finally, there’s Hokra, which is the only game of the bunch that requires four players split into teams of two. It’s also the simplest of the bunch. From a top down view, each player is a square that must grab the ball and simply hold it in their scoring zone for as long as possible. The first team to fill up their scoring meter wins. I guess I’m the weirdo of the group, because I enjoyed Hokra the most of the three games. It’s so simple and so very fun. It feels like a game from the late 1970s that somehow went undiscovered until now. There’s no complex techniques to learn. You simply bump into other players to steal the ball. You tap X to dash when you don’t have the ball, and press X to pass when you do. It’s competitive video gaming boiled down to its most basic mechanics, then refined until perfect. Games of Hokra are super fast-paced, short-lived, and generally result in lots of smiles, laughter, and screaming at each-other.
Despite absolutely adoring Sportsfriends for its masterful craftsmanship, I do have a couple nits to pick. Like everyone else seems to have noted, there’s no online play. Sportsfriends is local only. After my first attempt at playing this last week with three random fuckwads who decided before we even started that they would hate it, I started a mini-riot on Twitter by complaining about the recent trend of multiplayer-focused games with no online components. Sportsfriends, Towerfall, and even the HD re-release of one of my favorite under-appreciated games from my childhood, Cel Damage. This touched off a lot of bitter responses from developers talking about the cost and ultra-high difficulty of optimizing games for online play. I’m not often talked down to by the indie community, but on this day, people were pretty condescending to me about it.
Yes, I fully comprehend the cost and difficulty of getting your game online. Unlike most people complaining about it, I have gone out of my way to learn the ins and outs of making this work. Hell, I invited developer James Petruzzi to do an editorial explaining it to my readers the same way he did to me. There have been other editorials in recent weeks, like this one by the designer of Super Pole Riders explaining why you don’t want to see Towerfall online. I must have been linked that dozens of times last week. People couldn’t understand why, after so many people have explained why it can’t be done, people still complain. Especially me, because I should know better. I was called ignorant and naive.
We live in an era where consoles are built around online functions. Online multiplayer for a game that is multiplayer-only is absolutely expected by the majority of console owners. Especially on the PS4, a system that most people are having difficulty locating themselves, let alone know enough people who own one to bring controllers with them. If you want to throw the party yourself, three extra controllers will run you around $200 with sales tax on that platform. And no, no matter how fun it is, Sportsfriends (or any game for that matter) isn’t worth that by itself. I’m sorry guys, but we live in an era where everyone owns a cellphone and has the ability to talk with their voices to anyone they know at any time, yet they choose to send texts to each-other. The standards of social interaction have changed. It’s noble of you to try to create a game that unites people together like in the good old days. But if you can’t understand why people still complain about the lack of online play, you’re naive one, not me.
My only other complaint is I wish there had been more games. But that’s really not that big. Any of these three games by themselves would rank pretty high on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Combined? It’s a great package and a great value. There’s no A.I., so if you don’t have a means to get a local party together, don’t even consider a purchase. But all three games are incredibly fun, control smoothly, look neo-retrorific, and you’ll talk about your play session long after the party is over. On a personal note, everyone in my party has had a really tough time lately. We lost our dear friend and partner Kevin to cancer two weeks ago. This was the first time we’ve all been together just to hang out and have fun as a group since his passing. It was really cool. A great way to heal together. I usually try to end these review with a gag or a punchline. Instead, for Sportsfriends, I’ll say this: we all kept saying how much Kevin (who wasn’t a gamer by any means) would have loved to been there playing with us. He totally would have, and he would have been laughing and yelling with us. It was a really great time for all of us, and it wouldn’t have been as cool if I wasn’t doing this Indie Gamer Chick thing. I love you and miss you Kevin, and I totally would have knocked your ass into the water.
An early access review code was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. Sportsfriends was then released before the publication of this review and a full copy was then purchased by Indie Gamer Chick.