Deformers’ arena multiplayer is adorable, but its framework left something to be desired.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Deformers manages to offer solid (and jiggly) gameplay in each of its modes. From the Rocket League with a twist “Form Ball” to the more typical Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, it’s difficult to not have a smile on your face when in online matches (if you can actually find one). To accompany the classic arena modes, Deformers greatest addition to the genre is adorable, ball-like characters aptly called Deformers. They’re tied entirely to the game’s physics, so they’ll warp, squish and jiggle as they launch (and are launched) around the game’s handful of arenas. Without the adorable characters as the game’s backbone, it’s easy to see the game becoming entirely too generic.
Getting into the nitty-gritty, Deformer’s fantastic moment-to-moment gameplay is excellent with players able to shoot, jump, roll and propel themselves in and out of harm’s way to score a goal or eviscerate an enemy. Unlike games like Rocket League, Deformers also lets players lift up each other and objects on the map to damage, and ultimately kill, opponents. Both Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch have powerups that amplify a player for a bit with an environmental or physical modifier that can change their look or how the map behaves. My personal favorite is a low gravity modifier where players are thrown skyward and explode in a Smash Bros.-like fashion when they leave the stage area.
Form Ball, probably my favorite mode, is chaotic as players try to run a single ball up and down a field while players launch themselves into the ball or try to carry it into the other team’s goal. Unlike Rocket League or even Deformer’s other modes, there aren’t level or character modifiers, so matches are a little more predictable. The mode is a blast on its own, but it can feel a little flat at times without the silly match modifiers.
Deformers also supports split screen multiplayer and custom games, so there’s some versatility to playing the game with friends. I only dabbled in custom games when servers were down, and I left somewhat underwhelmed by “offline” options. For one, the game didn’t seem to want me to use more than a few AI bots, and the few it allowed were nearly motionless, making it tough to use the mode as a practice. The lackluster solo play is an unfortunate oversight considering the game is very much trial-and-error oriented with no actual tutorial.
In my time with the game, it’s fair to say I spent quite awhile sitting in empty multiplayer lobbies waiting for people to join my game. I don’t think this is the result of the game debuting poorly, but rather the servers weren’t ready for the load. This happens with many releases, but to have an entire weekend where matchmaking felt strained seems troubling. One nice little feature is the inclusion of player ping in multiplayer lobbies, but I was shocked at how many players neared the 200 ping cut off. Something with matchmaking certainly seems broken at this point, but that’s not to say it’s permanent. If developer Ready at Dawn can address matchmaking issues promptly, the game can survive. Still, if these issues persist, I can see the player base moving on in short order.
Because people tend to be quite sensitive about them, I’ll come right out with it: all microtransactions Ready at Dawn has instituted in the game are purely cosmetic and can theoretically be earned with one of two different in-game currencies. That practice is becoming more widespread, so it’s not exactly a shock to see it in use in Deformers. The real issue stems from underwhelming drip rate that can make it difficult to earn things you want in a timely manner. The first time you level up, the game rewards you with five gold helix, which can be spent on a new Deformer character. Every level up afterwards grants two gold helix. There are three tiers to characters: common, uncommon and rare, which cost five, 10 and 15 gold helix respectively. Meaning if you want a couple of the game’s rarest Deformers, you’ll have to put in some serious time to unlock them. In addition to gold helix, there’s also silver coins, which the game is a bit more generous with. The coins can be earned to purchase a cosmetic item which attaches to your characters like a hat, novelty sunglasses or even a battle axe. It’s all adorable, but they too are subjected to tiers of cost upwards of 10,000 coins, which is somewhere between 5-8 hours of multiplayer grinding depending on match performance. Of course, Ready at Dawn has microtransactions that can be purchased for $2.99, $9.99 and $19.99 USD to mitigate the grinding frustrations. While I have no qualms with the nature of cosmetic microtransactions, the rate at which you earn them in-game is simply far to low.
All of this fosters a rather unfortunate juxtaposition between Deformers’ gameplay and its all-too grindy cosmetic unlocks. On one end, smashing enemies, getting powerups and scoring goals will undoubtedly put a smile on your face. On the other, matches come to an end and you see for all your hard work, you’ve earned a handful of coins and are only one-fifth of the way to your next level up. Deformers is generous with its fun and stingy with its rewards, and it’s enough to make playing the game for more than a few hours feel like doing chores.
There’s some fun to be had in Deformers, and the game oozes with creative passion from cute character names and bios to interesting level design. That being said, it’s unacceptable for a game costing $29.99 to push grindy in-game currency while having inconsistent multiplayer.
Deformers is a blend of several multiplayer arena games and has enough unique elements to make it stand out, but its unreliable foundation holds it back from being anything more than average.
Deformers was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of Ready at Dawn.
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