You know how some games can put a grin on your face within seconds of playing them? Well, Strikers Edge is one of them.
It's a local and online multiplayer sport that the devs have dubbed 'dodgebrawl': it's all about chucking projectiles at your opponent while blocking and rolling away from the ones being thrown at you. I just spent 20 minutes with it, and I'm already prepared to declare it one of the best competitive multiplayer games I've ever played. It's got me thinking about TowerFall, which sits atop the peak of fast-paced single-screen multiplayer games - so comparisons to it are made at the commenter's peril.
I still need to play more, but I think this might be AT LEAST as good.
Like TowerFall, it's something that you can immediately pick up and start having fun with. Each 5 minute match follows a best of three round structure. Apart from throwing, rolling and blocking, the only other thing you have to worry about is each character's charged special attack. I've only tried out one so far. She has a spear that inflicts slightly higher damage but, more interestingly, leaves a trail behind it that I can activate to deal damage if my opponent is standing on it.
Throwing and dodging is joyous in itself, but it's those special abilities that take the game from good to great. They add a layer of strategy and psychology to what might otherwise merely be a contest of aiming and reaction-speeds. With that spear, for example, I've taken to trying to box people into a corner - I've found my opponents become so scared to cross the trail that they'll stay in a tiny area where they can't dodge effectively. There are 8 characters and you only ever fight one or two at once, so learning what each of them does adds variety without being overwhelming.
I love those abilities, but it's the little details that take the game from great to fantastic. There are bits of destructible cover that add pacing to each fight, offering brief respites where you can safely charge up an attack and plan your next move. Projectiles can collide in mid air, which often makes me gasp and/or giggle for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Blocking, while more difficult than dodge rolling, gives you a little bit of health if you pull it off successfully. It's a lovely little risk/reward decision.
As fantastic as those details are, Strikers Edge has one more trick up its sleeve that takes it from fantastic to superb. When a potentially lethal projectile comes near someone whose health bar is low enough, the camera swoops in and time slows down. That gives them a better chance to stay in the game, and means that matches often come down to ridiculously tense brawls where one wrong move will end it all for either player.
I've only got one concern with it, and that's that I'm going to end up playing too much before I can convince my friends to pick it up: I don't want to get too much practice with it so we can have more even fights. It's going to be hard to resist.
Strikers Edge is available on Steam for £9.45/$12.44/ €12.44. That price includes a 17% discount that runs until February 6th.