Disc Jam Review
Disc Jam is a cross between air hockey, tennis and ultimate frisbee, which should be a delightful combination in anyone’s book. In either a singles or doubles match you get to play with random people online, or friends locally, in a dizzying and challenging game of mixed memories. You are the striker of the old arcade-bound air hockey tables and you set yourself up to run to the net or drop to the baseline as you will have done, and seen others do, on the tennis court. All of this is focused around that frisbee you throw and make dance around the court in an attempt to win the fifty points you need for a set, and the two sets for a match. It’s an enticing setup, with surprising depth and keeps you coming back for more.
The game has been ported to Nintendo Switch by High Horse Games who first created it for PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows, releasing in March 2017. Running at 720p/60Hz when undocked, and 1080p/60Hz when docked, Disc Jam looks pretty enough and runs solidly without slowdown at all times, something which is essential given the timing of shots — and the latency required when a game is meant to be played online and competitively as this is. The game is effectively multiplayer only, either local or online. There is a kind of single-player mode, whereby you matchup against AI versions of real players which have been downloaded, but these games still make up a ranked match as per the ones truly online. The aim is to win, rank up, and rank up some more. Soon there will be leagues setup with seasons, but right now it’s just ranking up and practising in readiness.
In a large number of online games over Wi-Fi, singles and doubles, slowdown was only experienced once and it was our opponent’s end — their character was jumping around on their side of the court noticeably — but it did help us out as we had an advantage. Whilst our connection stayed rock solid, so did the gameplay. This is important as each time you receive the disc you have limited time to choose and make a shot, as well as having to return immediately to get a perfect shot off. The benefit in doing so is that the faster your shot is taken, the faster the disc moves. It’s like a fighting game whereby you have a window and in that window every frame counts. Solid online code is a must in that case, which Disc Jam has. Interestingly there is cross-platform play with the PC here too, so even whilst the Switch community is growing there is always someone to play within ten to thirty seconds of searching for a match. The whole matchmaking experience was entirely pleasant, which is lovely to see given how annoying and frustrating that can be in certain games.
Gameplay has a surprising amount of depth, lending a certain moreishness to proceedings which ensure you keep coming back for more. First of all you have the timing of your throw, from perfect — which comes with lovely fluffy pink trails and immense speed — all the way to the shot that’s too late, whereby your avatar releases the disc pitifully and automatically. You can apply spin once you’ve pressed the throw button, or you can use the shoulder triggers to chuck a curved one, in either direction. You can lob, or play a drop shot. If you’re returning you can charge a shield to block the disc and send it back, or you can get underneath a lob and if you’re there quickly enough, you charge up ready to play a super shot — a fiery attack which sees the disc move in extremely fast and varied directions making it much harder to return. However, should you manage it, you get a super return and hopefully one over your opponent. You can just rely on your old air hockey skills and get the angle of return right so your opponent is running all over the pitch trying to catch the disc before it hits another wall and finally goes past them to score.
The game’s viewpoint is from behind the court, in third-person. Whilst this allows you to see all the court and move around every inch of your half, it makes guessing the disc’s route that much harder when it’s bouncing at angles, or curling, because the depth is really hard to judge. We found often that we’d nail the positioning in our heads only to find it was way off. When you do get scored against, if you’re near enough the disc at the time, your character flies in the air thanks to the ragdoll physics. It’s kind of weird and jars versus the rest of the game. To help you get around the court quickly enough your character can slide taking a chunk of space out in one motion. Moving around the court isn’t as fluid as you might hope though. It really feels like you only have four or eight directions in which to move as opposed to a full 360 degrees and whilst this should be enough, when you change direction you can stall as the game thinks about what you’re doing. Equally trying to slide multiple times in quick succession doesn’t happen smoothly. It’s likely a timing thing, and with practise this can be improved upon, but at least to start with this could lead to some losses.
There is a lot of customisation and choice available. You have a roster of five characters to begin with, but more can be unlocked using jamoleons — the in-game currency obtained through play. Each character has different looks, and game styles, so you’re encouraged to try them all to work out which fits best with your preference. You can also use jamoleons to play a prize machine which gives random gifts ranging from new taunts to tickets which can then be spent unlocking specific customisation options. You could spend real money on making your character superficially different too but the appeal seems limited.
Disc Jam is a simple game with surprising depth and a variety of ways to make your way of playing different to someone else’s. Games move pretty quickly and you’re always learning and improving. Tutorials help teach you all the available moves but applying them in a real match is different. If you don’t mind the always online reality of the game, and are happy to compete against real people, then you’ll find lots to like here. With the addition of ranked leagues and cross-platform play the developers are clearly behind their creation fully. However there are better options available (think Rocket League), even on the Switch, if what you’re after is fast-paced and fun online competitive gameplay.