When talk turns to the future of console gaming, it often centres around mature narratives showcased by The Last of Us or grand online multi-player behemoths like Destiny. But squint at #IDARB and you may well see a glimpse of a different future, where dedicated servers connect one party room of raucous gamers with another half way around the world to compete in a game that looks like a futuristic sports title circa 1987.
A game borne from a Twitter conversation, hence the hashtag, #IDARB (It Draws A Red Box, apparently) is nothing if not an interesting social experiment. Developer Mike Mika’s pet project was quickly elevated when his Tweet to create a game with input via the social networking site was further Tweeted by Grim Fandango creator Tim Schafer to his quarter-of-a-million followers. What was, perhaps, an idle thought soon became a fully-fledged indie game within a year.
What has been made, with all that Twitter-ific input, is an eight-player local and/or online multiplayer, quasi-sports arcade game. Up to four players on one console can take on another four players online at a mash-up of Sensible Soccer and Super Mario Bros. Such a set-up is #IDARB’s holy grail, a riotous fusion of the renaissance of ‘couch multiplayer’ we witnessed last year via Nidhogg and TowerFall Ascension, and the more established fare of online competitive play.
The initial problem #IDARB faces then is that of scarcity; who owns four Xbox One controllers? Who has three other Xbox-owning friends who can nip over with their pads for a games night? Who even has three friends? You may have plenty of contacts online but such is #IDARB’s current set up that it prohibits matches across more than two consoles. A patch is apparently under way but as it stands, most people will be having one-on-one matches with friends or strangers online rather than the utopian ideal of four-on-four that it says on the digital box.
Yet there is absolutely nothing wrong with these paired down games, and the focus of taking on one player on the reasonably-sized field can still be a hoot. Despite the simplicity of the controls and execution, the relatively accurate physics ensures that a host of fantastic and memorable gameplay moments are never too far away. Be it a pixel-perfect, last minute deflection or a lucky bounce of the ball that goes your way, #IDARB certainly feels flush with the kinds of opportunity that will get a room full of players roaring with delight.
That then is the main problem here, in that you can see how good #IDARB could be, and almost certainly is right now for a select few, but the higher-end fun remains locked-off to the majority of players, at least for now. Part of the issue is certainly an aging gamer base, no longer blessed/cursed with siblings on hand or college mates to doss on the couch with. Yet it’s compounded by a game that unnecessarily limits social connections across the internet and for a title forged from the bowels of Twitter itself, that can’t help but seem like something of an own-goal.