(Disclaimer – this is a review I wrote for The Vita Lounge originally, hence the difference in formatting. I’m moving it to my own site for archiving sake. If I replay the game one day, I may re-write this for consistency reasons)
I’ve always thought that the Vita could benefit from having more extreme sports style games. In my mind, this refers to the likes of SSX and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater; titles that were all the rage in the early 2000’s as over-the-top versions of existing sports, but loosely based on reality. By all definitions, Bodycheck is an extreme sports game, although not quite what I had in mind – and sadly, nowhere near as good.
Using any hand-ball focused sport as a base (think American Football or Rugby), Bodycheck gives you a team of players who have taken to the obvious aim of getting the ball across the opposing team’s line and into the goal. It’s a simple enough premise I’m sure everyone is familiar with, but the twist here is that this is a no-holds-barred game; you can punch, kick, or even cast spells on your opponents – and are awarded extra points for knocking them out. This change in rules creates a much more brutal and extreme sport than anything it might draw from, and makes for an interesting concept… in theory.
As for the gameplay itself, you can choose from a number of teams – each of whom have access to a different spell to use in the matches. These spells range from defensive abilities like a wall around your player (to protect them from attacks), to a fireball which can be shot across the pitch (knocking down any players unlucky enough to be caught in its path). Experimenting with these provides some nice initial enjoyment, although you’ll quickly find that some spells are much more effective than others.
Matches are played from an overhead isometric perspective, with a fixed camera placement that gives a good view of your immediate surroundings. The character you control can run, punch, or dive; though if you grab the ball you can also block, throw, and shoot. There’s even a teammate directional indicator that allows for quick, tactical play with all the information you’ll need to get it done – and the action that results from all this is both enjoyable and fast paced.
This is where the problems start to creep in however, as things are often too fast paced. More often than not the games just turn into a chaotic, unorganized mess. Up to four teams can be in a match at any one time, and the more teams there are, the more ridiculous things get. Quite often the screen will just be a pile of players punching each other until one comes out victorious – and if by some miracle it’s one of your team, you’ll likely lose the ball again before you have time to realize it (let alone react).
There are plenty of other niggles as well. For example, the game has a nasty habit of putting you in control of a player who is miles away from the action – meaning you’ll spend lots of time aimlessly running around. There might be a way to switch control of players that I’m missing, but a complete lack of tutorials meant I was left to figure things out for myself. This trial and error style introduction lead to a lot of frustration during my early playing, which continued on until things finally began to click (and even then, I’d have preferred a bit more guidance to figure out the intricacies of the title).
The graphics here aren’t particularly great either; employing a very rough early 3D look, without much in the way of detail. That said, they’re good enough to get the job done, and I have to commend the team at Ludometrics for a smart use of colour (the palette they’re using means it’s always easy to read where you’re going on the field). The soundtrack however, is almost non-existent – some simple background cheering when you’re in a match being the only noise that I could note.
In spite of all the criticisms so far, I could still forgive Bodycheck because it provides a one-more-go, pick-up-and-play style good time. There’s something about the frantic action that makes it somewhat enjoyable to take part in, and when you finally have a good game – scoring knockouts and goals left and right – you’ll want to continue playing to finish the season, or try out a new strategy.
What I cannot forgive the game for however, is its technical instability. I’m not talking about frame rate here – I’m pretty tolerant of this when it comes to Vita titles anyway, but things seemed pretty smooth to me. Rather, what I’m talking about is how Bodycheck seemed to crash on me an alarming amount – far more than any other Vita game I’ve come across. I had two hard crashes that forced me to restart my console, alongside around thirty error messages which required me to restart the game. Worst of all, these often occurred at the exact same point every time – the majority showing up at the end of a final match. The instability here means you can never actually get the trophy for winning a 3v3 tournament, which is a pretty big problem.
Despite some initial Google searching suggesting it might be my console at fault, the issue wasn’t fixed via any of the fail safe methods – be it a re-download of the game, rebuilding my Vita’s database, or even trying it on a second console. This suggests that the issue is with the game itself (rather than the hardware I was using), and how this passed through quality assurance with such a problem I have no idea.
As such, Bodycheck is a very difficult title to review. There’s a fun core – but it’s underneath some sketchy presentation, some odd design choices, and a lack of polish. The technical issues also mean any sense of progression is literally halted, which in turn saps a lot of enjoyment out of the game. If these issues could be fixed, we’d be left with a quirky, rough, but decently unique experience… though as it is, I can’t say Bodycheck is worth your time.
Some rough presentation hides a decently fun game underneath, but a plethora of technical issues serve to pretty much completely ruin the experience. Without a major patch (which hasn’t happened in the 6 months since the game’s launch to the date of this review), this isn’t a Vita title I can recommend.