#IDARB is free on Xbox One. Go get it! So long as you're reading this in February 2015 and subscribe to Xbox Live Gold, just click here, sign in and queue up the download.
It's a small file, but you'll have just enough time to invite at least three friends over, preferably with their own Xbox One controllers.
Once you've grabbed a few snacks and perhaps thrown a few tinnies into the fridge, I'll have just enough time to explain why this bizarre mashup of Super Mario, Supraball, basketball and FIFA is one of the local multiplayer events of the last year... but a game that absolutely has to be enjoyed with at least three mates or not at all. And preferably while it's free, because value is going to be very hard to call.
In case you don't know, #IDARB (It Draws A Red Box) is a uniquely crowd-sourced project. Other Ocean tweeted an abstract picture of a red rectangle then reached out to the community for ideas about what the game should actually be. The result is a 4v4 team sport with one ball, two goals, enthusiastic commentary and an emphasis on brotastic team play... only with the mechanics of a sidescrolling platformer.
It couldn't be simpler. You'll run and jump around in traditional Super Mario style, carrying the ball when you come into contact with it. Jabbing the trigger shoots or initiates a tackle if you're off the ball, while hitting B allows you to pass to a nearby team-mate or carefully aim a pass when held down. If you get the ball into the goal, you'll score points depending on how far away you shoot from.
And that's it.
These simple genre basics will be familiar to practically any longtime gamer with a Nintendo, Atari or Amiga background, allowing you to get to grips with the hectic gameplay without the learning curve that FIFA or PES newcomers run into. Along with some bonkers half-time minigames.
Simple isn't a dirty word, however. #IDARB isn't simplistic, rather it's elegant in design, with only a few moving parts that have been honed to near-perfection. Handling, movement, passing and shooting are all instantly responsive and fluid, providing a deceptively high skill ceiling judging by the embarrassing beatdowns I've been handed online. Matches flow end to end with scope for well-choreographed teamwork, lone wolf showboating and more than a little luck.
As such, #IDARB is an absolutely brilliant party game. Eight players can get involved on a single screen, enjoying the ridiculous unplanned chaos of a local multiplayer gem, while teams of four can hop online for more competitive games. It's also as fun to watch as it is to play, at least for a while, not least because there's some crazy visual feedback, a gorgeous retro aesthetic, nostalgic references aplenty and some hidden surprises such as, amongst other things, delicious unlockable recipes.
Then the #hashbombs start dropping.
Each match is assigned a unique code, which allows players and viewers to affect the game in real-time with a massive selection of bizarre mutators via Twitter or Twitch. These can be as simple as turning the lights off with #light or as crazy as #lasers... I'll leave that to your imagination... with a whole heap of game-changing or plain wacky options on the table that are still being discovered. Onlookers can even bet fake currency in gambling mode, clearly in an attempt to turn #IDARB into a bona fide Esport.
Will this ever happen? I don't think so. Hashbombs go beyond randomness and into potential abuse territory (after all, players and onlookers with an agenda can freely use them), but without them, the game can quickly become a little samey after a few rounds despite some deeply amusing half-time minigames. Unlike Rocket Riot or Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank, there's a lack of variety especially since these hashbomb effects can't otherwise be triggered in-game, while the lack of a third dimension (and the extra opportunities for gameplay this brings) makes the likes of Supraball a more robust and versatile option for more hardcore players. Still, it's going to be a Twitch darling and a seriously fun curiosity for a while.
The content offering is odd. On the one hand, #IDARB offers an enormous number of team sprites including breakfast items, cameos from Team 17 or Microsoft games (yes, there's a Worms and Halo team) and even the ability to hand-pixel your own. You can create a team song with a surprisingly robust composition tool. Solo play is boring and lonely, but there's at least a token effort to cater to loners with a throwaway singleplayer campaign and a one-player gambling mode that lets you bet on two AI teams.
On the other hand, though, #IDARB only has one pitch/level/arena. One.
Yes, this one pitch can be mutated via hashbombs. Yes, this one pitch allows pro players to finely hone their skills in a completely balanced environment. Yes, it has probably been playtested to destruction. But, again, there's only one of them. This is a shocking missed opportunity for providing a number of arenas balanced for two, four and six players.
And, of course, it further decreases the game's value. For free #IDARB is a blast, but it becomes an exponentially tougher sell for £11.99 from March onwards, especially since the lack of variety can tempt even a boistrous local party to start eyeing up other games after an hour. Restrictive matchmaking hurts long-term appeal even further, since you can only search for teams of equal size to your own. If you're alone, you can only play 1v1 online rather than find three team-mates.
Which means that you need to get on #IDARB now. You may not play it often, but it's exactly the sort of game you'll want on your hard drive when a group of friends swing by, perfect for sticking on and whiling away some frantic, hectic and hilarious evenings with high fives and hash bombs aplenty. Just be sure to take advantage of the Games With Gold deal while you can.
- Hectic and surprisingly skilful sport powered by responsive and accessible platforming mechanics
- Eyecatching presentation and winning personality
- Hashbombs let players and viewers mutate matches in hilarious ways via Twitter and Twitch
- Utterly brilliant in 4-8 player local multiplayer
- Only one arena; limited long-term appeal for many players, no pitches balanced for lower player counts
- Restrictive matchmaking
- Questionable value once the Games With Gold promotion ends
The Short Version: #IDARB is a fun, accessible and utterly bonkers 4v4 team sport that allows onlookers to get involved in crazy and unpredictable ways. It's a local multiplayer revelation, though long-term appeal and value is questionable especially once it returns to £11.99.
7 - GOOD: Some sites seem to think that the halfway point between 1-10 is 7. This is not the case. It should be noted that 7 is not just a perfectly respectable score, it's a good score. A 7 is not an indication of failure, nor is it the mark of a bad, poor or even average game. These are titles that can be considered very worthwhile, but maybe come with a caveat. Frequently the domain of the well-made-if-rather-conventional brigade.
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC version incoming
Developer: Other Ocean Interactive