Every once in awhile you come across a game that has a unique premise, mechanic or style that you almost immediately realize should not be novel at all. Something that, upon reflection, developers should have been doing for quite awhile now. 2015's Rocket League is a perfect example of what I'm talking about; rocket powered soccer featuring remote control cars that could fly was never something I realized I needed in my life until Psyonix gave it to me. Strikers Edge, combining the playground fun of dodgeball with the blood lust of medieval warfare in a traditional fighting game wrapper, is also one of those games. While developer Fun Punch Games doesn't deliver a product with as much polish or depth as something like Rocket League, it does scratch an itch you probably never even knew you had.
Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge
The basic concept of Strikers Edge is simple enough, in theory – two players stand on opposite sides of a bifurcated arena and throw deadly weapons at each other until somebody falls down. The reality of actual matches is somewhat different, however, as the various rolls, dodges and blocks your opponent can utilize make landing hits difficult, especially since you’ll be rolling, dodging and blocking, yourself. Like any good fighting game, the core mechanics are easy to understand and use, but difficult to master. When playing with friends or random players online with similar skill level, this often leads to some exhilarating matches, with last minute comebacks and matches full of crazy antics. Finding those matches can be tough, though, as the player base at present isn’t quite large enough to ensure constant matches, let alone matches with similarly skilled players.
Retro Combat Meets Retro Art
Strikers Edge, like many indie games of recent years, uses a retro, quasi 16-bit style. Unlike many other indie games, that style actually works in the game’s favor, given that the setting and presentation are evocative of the early days of the SNES and Sega Genesis. Most playable characters in the game take their inspiration from ancient and medieval European history and fantasy, including knights errant, Valkyries, Spartans, Vikings, etc. Each character has their own stats, playstyles, special attacks and campaigns, though the differences are mostly minor. I stuck with Galad the Knight for my first few campaigns and most of my online play without feeling like I ever needed to switch up. She seemed to have the most interesting backstory and the coolest art style, and I never felt as if I was at a disadvantage because I didn’t take someone else, and while it was fun enough to run through the campaign with each character and learn their story, there simply wasn’t enough difference in how they played for me to care all that much.
Perfectly Symmetrical Violence Never Solves Anything
Strikers Edge offers several different ways to get into the action, from a typical campaign reminiscent of every fighting game of the past 20 years to online and local multiplayer, including both 1v1 and 2v2 variants. The campaign simply runs you through an encounter with each of the other characters in the game, broken up by story bits in between levels where you learn a bit more about your chosen hero. Like those games, you’re likely to lose interest quickly in Strikers’ single player experience, as the AI never really puts up a fight.
Online matches are much more entertaining, provided you can find one. As mentioned earlier the ability to find an online match against random players, is, at this point, somewhat a crapshoot. I sometimes found myself matched with other players instantly, and sometimes found myself waiting as long as ten minutes. Worse, there is no ability to single queue for 2v2 matches. If you do not have at least one friend in game with you, you’re relegated to 1v1.
When you finally do get into a match against someone else, though, there’s a weird, chaotic rhythm to the proceedings that make it a good bit more fun than it has any right to be. Far more times than could possibly be explained by coincidence, matches would play out with my opponent and I mirroring each other’s attacks and even timing so perfectly that our projectiles would collide in mid-air and fall harmlessly into the crevasse, over and over again, before someone broke the stalemate with less conventional tactics or simply ran out of stamina. Each character has the same basic abilities, namely the ability to block and roll-dodge, as well as the ability to charge normal attacks that do more damage at the expense of lowered mobility. All these various abilities consume part of your stamina gauge or your block meter, and when those run out you are mostly defenseless for a few seconds while they recharge, so there’s a certain give and take to the combat where you cannot be too aggressive lest you run out of steam, nor can you be too passive because stationary targets are dead targets.
Kill Time by Killing Friends
Were Strikers Edge any more expensive than it is, it would be difficult to recommend. There’s not a ton of content here, and it’s not the kind of game that is going to keep you engaged for hours a day. For $15, however, it doesn’t need to be. The older I get, the more difficult it is to arrange game time with my friends, who at this point are scattered across the country and, in some cases, the globe. It is a pretty regular occurrence that I find myself loading up quick games with one or two friends to enjoy while we wait for the rest of the gang to hop on, and Strikers Edge is the perfect kind of game for situations just like that; something you can pick up and have a blast with for 15-20 minutes at a time, a few times a week. I would have liked to see more from Strikers Edge; more content, more playable characters, more online options. Even so, if you’ve got a good group of friends and a lifestyle that lends itself to quick multiplayer matches, Strikers Edge is a solid pick up.