Rocket League is the surprise hit of the season, one that has plenty thinking "why didn't anyone think of this before?" The developers of Rocket League did. They released Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars way back in 2008, but it went mostly ignored.
Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars was a footnote in the history of PlayStation Network until Rocket League came along. It came and went for the vast majority of us, only being given a closer look now because Rocket League seemingly came out of "nowhere."
If you squint, it's a little hard to tell the difference between Rocket League and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars because the games are, ultimately, very similar. It's soccer with cars that can flip, twist, and turbo towards the ball and one another inside an arena.
Here's Rocket League:
(Good job with that goal, me!)
And here's Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars:
Similar, yes, but there are key differences. Visually, Rocket League is polished as hell, and the presentation is important for making Rocket League stick, especially for newcomers. But more importantly, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars is a more complicated game.
There are no power-ups in either one, but the few currently available arenas in Rocket League are dead simple: there are goals on each side of the arena. There's no complexity to the layout, whereas Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars quickly introduced lots of variety.
(I suspect Rocket League will become more complex over time, as the game appears to be mirroring Nintendo's approach with Splatoon, by introducing new layers of depth after release.)
This pirate stage has multiple levels, which means all sorts of weird ball fights break out.
Set in space, this one has a ramp before the goal, forcing you to rethink close shots.
The trick to this desert map, on the other hand, is dealing with the huge amount of space.
This one might be my favourite, though. It's extremely tiny, but includes lots of ramps, which means batting the ball around can quickly turn into a game of pinball. It's entirely possible to send the ball up the side of the wall at the right angle and watch as it comes down into the goal.
Even though many people haven't heard of Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, the game had a small but dedicated community of players who became hooked early on. The success of Rocket League has even taken them by surprise.
"It's surreal, to say the least," said Jonathan 'Fyshokid' Taylor, one of Rocket League's top-ranked players. "We all knew it had the potential, but I don't think any of us expected it to blow up like it did. What I find most amusing is how most people talk about how the game 'came out of nowhere,' while a lot of us Supersonic vets have been waiting agonizingly long for this game."
(Rocket League's development was announced way back in 2011!)
"I don't think I've ever had as much fun playing a video game as I did playing Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars split-screen for the first time," he continued. "Just three people in the room going nuts whenever a goal is scored. Although I was absolute crap at the game at the time, it was still insanely fun, regardless of whether or not we won or lost."
Taylor's highlight reels for Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars used to get a few hundreds views on YouTube; with Rocket League, they're regularly garnering up to 50,000 views per video. The one below, for example, has more than 150,000 views.
"As my teammate coolcole93 said at some point," he said, "our little game is all grown up."
There are still people playing the original game online, of course. When I downloaded it earlier this week, a handful of players were still kicking around.
Even though I spent an hour with Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, I couldn't put my finger on why it felt...different. So I decided to ask my resident expert, instead.
"Rocket League is more accessible, I'd say," said Taylor. "The Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars physics were quite a bit faster and catered more towards individual skill rather than team play. As a result of this, ranked matches were predominantly played 1v1. Psyonix changed the physics for Rocket League so that proper team play was necessary to really be competitive, which I personally think is a nice change, but created a bit of controversy in the community at the time. That isn't to say that team play wasn't present in Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. It was just a lot harder, due to the pingy nature of the physics."
In Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, online matches happen via a giant server list. You pick which game you want to join — that's it. It's entirely possible to join a game with people who have been playing for thousands of hours. In Rocket League, everything happens via matchmaking, so players of equal skill are (hopefully) pitted against one another online.
"It was never fun for a newcomer to get beaten by 35 goals in their first game," he said.
(That sounds pretty funny to watch, though!)
While most people will never play Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, it's important to know and note the game's legacy. Rocket League couldn't exist without it.