I have always enjoyed Rocket League (PC/Switch/PS5/Xbox) but I never got truly invested in it. The idea of soccer, except with cars, is awesome. I love every part of that concept. And it's an idea that took developer Psyonix several years to perfect (see Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars). Rocket League blew up (in a good way) shortly after it was featured as a free PS + game in 2015, and the PC/console experience has been iterated on many times since then. For better or worse, because it's now a free-to-play experience, it has also been heavily monetized (although I think the monetization level is somewhat fair compared to other games).
While I do enjoy playing the PC/console game from time to time, I can never shake the feeling that I've missed the boat on Rocket League by not playing regularly over the years since its launch. That's not to mention the insane highlight reels of Rocket League pros on the Internet that make me feel like I can barely dribble the ball.
All of that said, everything has changed now that we have Rocket League Sideswipe (released in November 2021). We can hop on a new boat together. This boat retains the same look and feel of the PC/console experience, but it's a new boat entirely.
Rocket League Sideswipe is a 2D game (with 3D models), but somehow Psyonix has retained the overall feeling of the PC/console experience using only a virtual joystick and 2 buttons (jump & boost). Not only that, but in the game's initial season it's entirely free to play (there is literally no way to spend money).
Oh and also I haven't mentioned this yet, but I'm totally addicted.
Rocket League, but 2D
The controls for Rocket League Sideswipe are so simple and yet so hard to master precision over. It's crazy to me that with such simplification, Psyonix is still able to have this mobile release feel very similar to playing Rocket League on PC/console. Gone is the need to pick up boosts from the floor of the arena - Your car simply has a stamina meter (way to copy BOTW). Cars also no longer bump into each other, which is probably more a necessity of playing on a 2D field. Clearly Psyonix has learned from watching the horrible chaos of Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros. characters bump into each other in 2D. Still I would occasionally forget this due to my experience playing the regular version of Rocket League, and fail at knocking into my opponents - Passing right through them like some sort of sports car ghost.
As of launch there are 3 ways to play Rocket League Sideswipe. The game has doubles (2-on-2), duel (which is 1 vs. 1), and hoops (basketball). I chose to randomly match into any of these options during my playtime because I liked the variety, but the 2-on-2 action of doubles felt most similar to traditional Rocket League. In all 3 match types games are only 2 minutes long (excluding time between goals), which I found much more suitable for both mobile and the type of pick up and play game that I'm looking for. I know that Rocket League on PC/console is usually 5 minute games, but something about the 2 minute version helped brisk me along saying "just one more" after every match.
Normally I would find the "duel" 1 vs. 1 mode incredibly daunting in regular Rocket League on PC/console, but the 2 minute timer really helped me feel less intimidated. Not to mention that the game seems to be doing an excellent job of matching against players of similar skill level, so I actually made good progress winning in duel mode and moved up the ranks. While 2-on-2 feels more like traditional Rocket League, hoops was just different enough to be a bit confusing jumping between matches. I would sometimes forget that in basketball you need to jump up for the ball at the beginning of the match (the tip-off) instead of driving straight at it like in soccer. Hoops is very fun as well, providing a slightly different type of target that you need to aim the ball into. I also appreciate the sounds in Rocket League Sideswipe. When playing hoops, you can hear your cars squeaking on the court similar to how it would sound watching a real basketball game.
Sideswipe crushes the presentation, although it's mostly just emulating what the series has done previously. Not just the sounds of soccer and rockets, but the music. Borrowing similar sounds from Rocket League on PC/console, the electronic music absolutely slaps in Sideswipe.
And what happens when a game excels in gameplay and presentation? Well it hooked me. I'm horribly addicted. It's great fun leveling up as you play (whether you win or lose) and building towards each step in your "Rocket Pass". Oh what's a Rocket Pass? It's a battle pass, which is normally one of the main ways that "free-to"play" games monetize. The game also has a shop where you can buy cosmetic items, although in both the case of the shop and the battle pass, there is currently no way to spend real life money.
The key word there is currently, because this type of setup is begging to be monetized. I mean it's exactly the same as Rocket League on PC/console, except with no way to upgrade your battle pass, buy loot boxes (which are in the battle pass), or spend money.
I can say with 100% confidence that while I am terribly addicted and enjoying earning my way through the battle pass (+ weekly and seasonal challenges), I know Psyonix has a simple "on" switch waiting to monetize the entire game. So while I really appreciate that Rocket League Sideswipe has no way to spend money currently, and that makes everything seem incredibly fair, it's only a matter of time until they start accepting your money. I'd bet that the app gets monetized by season 2 (there's still ~45 days left in the first season).
I'm also surprised that Psyonix kept some of the toxic stickers that you can send to other players for this mobile game. I can't tell you how many times I missed blocking a goal to have my opponent say "what a save"... Or teammates that send an angry emoji when I'm clearly trying my best. There was an opportunity for new stickers or messages here. I'd love to be able to send something like this every time I block a shot on goal:
I'm still doing that in my head either way though.
Sideswiping right on this hottie
In the end I am really enjoying Rocket League Sideswipe in its first season. The game takes everything from traditional Rocket League and miniaturizes it in the best way possible. The gameplay feels right, the online gameplay just works, and the progression system keeps you motivated to try "just one more game" so that you're constantly earning new rewards.
I fear that future monetization will ruin this game for me personally, because it's such an obvious cash cow. Still, I'll be enjoying every second of my time with Sideswipe even knowing that Psyonix is just waiting for the right moment to milk it.