The last thing I expected to see during my playthrough of Other Ocean's #IDARB at E3 last week was an airbrushed Rick Astley strolling across the screen, but that's exactly what happened, ruining a likely goal for my chicken-and-duck team. Shortly afterward, the background swirled and all players on the field turned into clowns -- accompanied, as if by contractual requirement, by Entry of the Gladiators.
Other Ocean's competing sportsman Frank Cifaldi triggered these concentration-rattling effects by typing commands into a Twitch chat window during the match, altering the game's momentum in his favor. #IDARB's retro-styled, side-scrolling approach to the sports genre is at once simple and ambitious, and inventive features like Twitch chat integration make it one of the most intriguing games to earn the support of the ID@Xbox program.
Gameplay in #IDARB unfolds over a series of four-quarter matches that support up to eight players simultaneously. Each match takes place from a side-view perspective in a small arena filled with ledges and obstacles. Players leap across suspended platforms and compete for possession of a glowing ball, using a single button to pass and shoot while on offense and tackle nearby opponents while on defense. The left analog stick controls both player movement and shot trajectory, making it a challenge to dodge attacking players while lining up a shot on the opposing goal.
While its pared-down gameplay recalls classics like NBA Jam and Blades of Steel, layered mechanics provide additional challenge for expert players. Wiggling the right analog stick will compress the player's sprite and enable more powerful shots, and scoring three goals in a row sets a player "on fire," giving a boost akin to NBA Jam's classic feature. Mastering these mechanics will allow players to execute trickier shots for high-scoring goals; close-range shots net two points for your team, while a half-court goal is worth as much as five points.
Skill will only get you so far, though, as your concentration will be tested if the match is being streamed live via Twitch. Chat trolls can alter the flow of gameplay with a variety of effects, including distracting backgrounds, reversed controls, and Rick Astley cameos. While #IDARB's in-game action is competitive and fast-paced, its tone is kept light throughout. Halftime shows use the Kinect in a number of inspired minigames, some of which ask players to rally by making more noise than the competing team. After a match, the losing team can make their players cry, filling the screen with an ocean of salty tears.
#IDARB has a simple design at its core, but the number of hilarious additions bolted onto the experience made it one of the most memorable games I played at E3 last week. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of ridiculous crowdsourced additions the twisted minds at Other Ocean can implement before the game launches as an Xbox One exclusive later this year.
[Image: Other Ocean]