Echo boom shakalaka
There has been a massive NBA Jam-sized hole in my heart for quite a long time now. EA Sports managed to achieve perfection with NBA Jam: On Fire Edition back in 2011, and whenever EA does a good thing, it’s usually a mistake, and they quickly bury it under the crawlspace with all the other talented developers. So, until the police manage to get a warrant and dig up all those bodies, I’ve been on the lookout for a game that captures the same razzle-dazzle.
Jollypunch’s RoboDunk seems to be built entirely on the same philosophy. Here we have two-on-two basketball where the dunk is king. Each team is comprised entirely of Lego-like robots, and they’re out to prove that their skills pay the bills. I’ve had my eye on it for a while now, and with Steam Next Fest in swing once again, I finally was able to get my hands on it.
To start off in RoboDunk, you’re given an allotment of coins to buy team members and some upgrades that show up in random rotation at the start of and during matches. The team members have their own strengths and weaknesses, most importantly when it comes with their offensive attacks.
There is no real shooting in RoboDunk. In this house, we worship only the glorious dunk. However, there are added strategy to dunking. Not only do you have to time your button presses correctly, but you also have to charge your dunk before launching into the air. The more you manage to fill the meter, the more points you’ll score on a successful draining. In single-player, you can signal to your teammate to head in for an alley-oop, but I rarely saw them going full charge with it.
On the court, you can throw up shields to block and send out munitions to attack. You can also charge into your opponents to nudge the ball free and send them to the floorboards. Despite the lack of throws, it actually feels quite a lot like NBA Jam to the point where I was constantly trying to press a turbo button that doesn’t exist.
Shut up and dunk
The game uses a semi-rogue-like framework that has you progressing through a series of matches, trying not to lose. Winning one lands you an upgrade that your bot will maintain throughout your playthrough.
While this works as a framework, the downside of it is that it adds to RoboDunk’s void of personality. There are a lot of benefits in terms of using robots here, and the toy aesthetic adds a layer of visual pizzazz, but it feels almost necessary to make up for the fact that a lot of the design is rather sterile.
Aside from picking your robots, there’s a dearth of personalization when it comes to creating your teams. As such, the robots are all forgettable and interchangeable. It’s hard to root for your own team when the players have no value or identity beyond what type of rocket they shoot from their nipples. It’s hard to get excited about the violence when it’s being performed by Roombas made of Lego bricks. There’s also no audience, so you don’t even get a feel for the importance of these games. Battling Tops does a better job of lending personality to its combatants.
Likewise, I realized after a few games that the backgrounds are different but equally interchangeable. Once again, these basketball courts aren’t anchored in reality. It could have given toy-like courts that exist with kitchen table backdrops or robot stadiums with dumb ads bordering the courts, but instead, they’re just girders and sand and columns.
I did have a reasonably good time with the RoboDunk demo, but my brain really had nothing to chew on afterward. It’s a decent facsimile of games like NBA Jam and Nekketsu Street Basket in terms of gameplay, but falls short in personality. It’s worth trying the demo out, and since no release date has really been announced beyond “this year,” the shortcomings I came across could still be addressed. As it is, however, it’s a bit short of a slam dunk.
You can check out the demo for Robodunk right now as part of Steam Next Fest.