When I was a younger man and still used to holiday with my parents, I spent most holidays bouncing around the coastlines of the UK. During this time (late 80s, early 90s), the arcade was still very much a big thing. I found myself drawn to the multigame Neo Geo cabinets at the time. These had between one and six different Neo Geo games to choose from and one of the games that always used to grab my attention (but I was very bad at) was Windjammers. Windjammers was a sports title, which was, for lack of a better explanation, a mix of Tennis and Volleyball with frisbees.
Disc Jam takes this same concept and brings it to modern systems. Its basic premise is that it is a 1 v. 1 (or 2 v. 2 in doubles) sports game where you throw a flying disc in an attempt to get it past your opponent, or hit the ground on their side of the court. So far, so simple, but this game has some serious nuance to the controls.
Like Windjammers, you have one button to throw and one to lob. However, Disc Jam adds quite a bit more to your arsenal. The left and right triggers let you curve a shot either left or right, but the real power comes from adding directional controls to this. You can, for example, make lobs land on practically any part of the court. You want to drop it just over the net — pull down on the stick, push up and it flies to the back side of the court. Great for catching people out.
The throws are where it gets really fun, though, and starts to incorporate elements you might expect to see in a fighting game. Using a combination of quarter and half circles, you can really put some crazy spin on your shots. So a quarter turn from the bottom right makes the shot curve to the right — but in a different style to the triggers, as it curves, then carries on in a straight trajectory — and aims to throw your opponent off.
My personal favourite is the half circle from left to right. If you do this while in the appropriate side of the court, it sends the disc curving wildly into the wall, and it keeps skipping along the wall at high speed. Your shots can also be varied in power by how quick you throw the disc back, with the best speed being shown by a ‘perfect’ icon showing up on screen and the disc glowing pink.
There are also a few different ‘special’ throws. These can be selected from the menu before you start, such as a spiral or a zig zag pattern. These can be activated by using your shield. If you hold the X button, your player holds out a shield — discs that hit it pop up into the air before they reach you. This is a bit random, however, so you have to be careful to catch the disc as it comes back down. If you hold the shield button long enough the powered-up disc pops up, resulting in a special throw when you catch it. You have to make sure you are always facing the disc when you catch it, as otherwise it hits you in the back and knocks you down.
So, purely on gameplay, it’s rather fun, but now onto the parts that put me off slightly.
This is a multiplayer game only. I mean, there is a ‘Ghost Arcade’ mode in which you can play against ghost AIs, generated from a live player’s style — which to be fair to it, is quite clever — but that is the only single-player option here. No story, no league, no championship. Just local multiplayer or online. Now, as someone who doesn’t have many friends and hates playing online, this is quite a big negative to me. I really do not see one reason for not having a single-player mode in Disc Jam. Especially on a system that, for me at least, is used portable most of the time with no internet access — it’s rather a bummer, as the core gameplay is really enjoyable. But, needs must when the devil drives, so.
I hopped online. A pleasant surprise is that cross-platform play is available, which was good, as I think I only managed to get one game with cross-platform turned off. That said, the game had only just released on Switch at the time, so this should hopefully ease up over time, but this also led to a problem. I was playing against what I assume to be PC players, who had had the game for a long time.
I lost. A lot.
This is my main reason for not playing online these days — I do not have the time to ‘git gud’ as ignorant youngsters may say, and constantly losing is, quite simply, not fun. But as I had no other choice, I persevered. Eventually, I won a few games, but also lost a few rather unfairly due to massive lag spikes. I’m sure this was more to do with who I was playing against, but still, rather annoying.
As you win games, you win J, the in-game currency. The only use of this is in the prize machine — for 1000 J, you get a random ball from a gacha machine. These contain skins, emblems, tags which are shown to other players online), discs and tickets. Tickets are a recent addition, as you get these if the prize machine would otherwise give you a duplicate item, so the fact that you do not get duplicates is a good thing. You can then use these tickets to directly purchase whichever skins, emblems and discs you want.
However, from what I have seen, this is a complete grind. A typical game nets you about 300 J, so you need to play three to four games per random ball, with a chance to get something you want, or to get a ticket. Now, things you get do have different levels of rarity, so cost different numbers of tickets to buy — or very good luck in the prize machine. For example, the gold skin for one of the characters is 625 tickets. That’s around two thousand games that would need to be played to be guaranteed to get it. Luckily, these items are purely cosmetic, but obviously players will use these, in a willy waving fashion online, to show their dominance. But don’t worry! If you don’t have time to play thousands of games just to get a skin that makes absolutely no difference to the game, simply buy the J you need need with real money! I’m not going to go into this, except to say that I hate it and feel it is predatory behaviour.
So in conclusion, the core gameplay is a lot of fun, But lack of a single-player mode and the utter grind of unlocks — unless you pay — puts me right off Disc Jam and makes it hard for me to recommend. If you have the time to invest, go for it. Otherwise, just get Windjammers instead — it’s just released on PS4 and PS Vita.