Video Game Review: #IDARB (Xbox One)

idarb screenEmbrace the chaos. That could be the official motto of #IDARB.

As far as I can tell, there are a lot of firsts that #IDARB (which stands, incidentally, for “It Draws a Red Box” — more on that in a minute):

– First game to allow both tweets and Twitch comments to alter gameplay
– First game whose first “letter” is a hashtag
– First Xbox One game to incorporate QR codes to import new player characters
– First game to exist that is a cross between soccer, basketball, and Jumpman.

(Seriously, does anyone remember Jumpman? Jumpman was the best.)

Maybe you can find examples of the above “firsts” pre-#IDARB, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is, #IDARB is relentlessly innovative in its approach to competitive gameplay, even as it is relentlessly primitive in its execution. It is very plainly a game that could only exist in the 2010s, even as it goes out of its way to look like a game that could never have gotten out of the ’80s.

Here’s the basic idea of #IDARB: There are two teams of one to four players per team, two goals (one for each team), and one ball. Each team tries to pick up the ball and throw it into the goal. Each player can either pass, shoot, or knock the ball out of an opponent’s hand. The farther a shot goes and the more things it hits on its way to the goal, the more points it scores. Spectators, if they so choose, can lob “hashbombs” through Twitter or Twitch, which range from either aesthetic weaks to wholesale changes to the game. Timely example: #llama will make a llama (it looks more like a camel, but, like, whatevs) appear in the background of the playing field, along with a little shout-out to lo-fi dev demigod Jeff Minter.

That’s it! That’s the whole game! The arena is a bit of a platforming nightmare, but it’s well-designed enough to give any player a number of paths to get around opponents. The action is fast, but you get used to it quickly. It doesn’t take too long before you can be competitive, even if it’s almost impossible for those of us with human reflexes to perfect trick shots. Walking into the goal (with the ball, of course) is worth one point, and it’s the best way for a new player to get started.

This is a game designed as an eSport, something that can be played quickly and competitively, something for which a huge tournament bracket can be played through in a couple of hours. As such, it’s frenetic and fantastic.

idarb_etTry and play it by yourself, however, and it’s a little less fun. There is a single-player campaign, but it’s buried a bit in the menus, and there’s very little tension in learning the predictable patterns of computer opponents. Anyone who’s played a video game before will blow through the whole thing in a couple hours.

There’s plenty of fun to be had in creating and importing various characters as well. There are easily-manipulated editors for creating your own 8-bit sprites, and there’s a neat little tracker program for putting together some music. You can even import via QR code. I imported the little dude to the left because I want #IDARB to evoke every childhood memory I ever had. I programmed a theme song for him that sounds like a chippy dubstep version of the Indiana Jones theme song for maximum cognitive dissonance. For a game that so often seems to say “why not?,” it seems appropriate.

#IDARB started out of a single tweet: Other Ocean developer Mike Mika said “I’ve started a new project, it draws a red box,” and from there, he incorporated feature requests from his followers to turn the game into what it is today. What it is today, then, is a riot — something best enjoyed in short bursts but a total blast to play, especially with some friends and an audience.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like your thing. Well, it’s still free until tomorrow (February 28) for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. What do you have to lose?

Score: 7.9