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IDARB: Xbox One, Review

The word ‘metagame’ is taken a little too literally by IDARB . This, after all, is a game given life by Twitter, after designer Mike Mika posted some tentative work and asked followers what to do with it. Twitter defined the game in development. Now it can do the same while it’s being played. Send a missive to the IDARB account, add the unique alphanumeric identifier shown in the top corner of the screen, then select a ‘hashbomb’ a hashtagged phrase that triggers certain events in the game. The arena might flood; the ball might turn into a bomb; and let’s see how you get on when every character on screen is given a new sprite.


Despite this thoroughly modern overlay, IDARB’s premise is as vintage as they come. Two teams of between one and four players are placed around a ball in a platform-game arena. Points are based on basketball two points for scoring from close, three from farther away though the NBA has never awarded five points for a half-court shot, or experimented with multipliers. Here, an alley-oop (jump to catch a pass and shoot before landing) doubles the payout, as will a shot that bounces off the floor on its way in, or a goal scored under the effects of certain hashbombs. Multipliers stack; a ten-point deficit can be overturned in a second.

With its sparse moveset double-jump, shoot, pass and steal and zippy movement,  IDARB  harks back to games like Speedball 2 and  Sensible Soccer , and the Amiga stylings extend well beyond the mechanics. It’s a love letter to the sprite sheet, with scores of character models drawn from the videogame archetypes of history, but also the modern day. Studios like Harmonix and Double Fine have teams; pick Team Capy to take the cast of  Super Time Force  into battle. The announcer, meanwhile, offers faux-digitised, appropriately dated pop culture quotes (see ‘The comedy box’).
While your first instinct will be to chase after the ball, finding space and sticking to it is often more effective. Certain areas are off-limits: dawdle in the goal or on the ledge behind it, and you face a spell in the penalty box.
IDARB is an old game with new ideas, devised by a man who has been making games since the Game Boy era but is fascinated by the power of modern social media. But it is, ultimately, a young man’s game. It’s so fast and so chaotic that it’s often hard to pick yourself out on screen, even before the hashbombs make their presence felt. Players and ball ping about the place at such a terrifying lick that success often feels more like a result of luck than player judgement. What is hard to parse in an offline setting is frequently unplayable online. Games of this pace are ruined by even the tiniest trace of latency, and IDARB’s trace is significant.

As meta-commentary on social media’s direct line between developer and player, IDARB is a fine concept piece. As a game, it’s much like Twitter itself raucous and ridiculous, funny but infuriating.

The Comedy Box
The in-game announcer pulls quotes from films of days gone by (“Nobody puts baby in the corner”; “Welcome to the party, pal”; weirdly, “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs Robinson?”). In the brief singleplayer mode, pre-match banter sees cows, coffee cups and streaky bacon talking trash. The game’s greatest gag comes when an online opponent pulls the plug in a bid to avoid a heavy loss. We shan’t spoil it, but it’s more of  IDARB’s achingly contemporary spin on old ideas.

6/10

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