RoboDunk is a Roguelite fast-paced arcade basketball fighting game releasing on the PC and Switch. Developed and published by Jollypunch Games, a one-person team created by Gabreiele Libera, it bills itself as “the first Basketball roguelite”.
RoboDunk – Nothing but net!
JollyPunch’s mission is “to help friends smash each other with glee in the safety of videogames”. Their first game, Fly Punch Boom!, certainly met that criteria, and with RoboDunk, it seems that record is intact. So, let’s assemble our Dunkball teams and take to the arenas!
In the future, a great war has scarred the Earth and left only destruction. From the ashes, only one thing remains: the DUNK. Robodunk follows the matches and dust-ups of the teams of robots left in the wake of war, and their pursuit of victory in the Dunkball arenas.
The campaign sees us work our way up the ranks in service to the shadowy ‘Overseer’. A mysterious figure who wants to know more about the culture of the sport, who gives us some money for our first couple of bots, as well as some of the game’s fun modifiers. And from then on, there’s nothing left but to get stuck into the game’s excellent moment-to-moment gameplay.
A straight race to the top of the scoreboard, the games play like a particularly contact-heavy arcade basketball game. Matches start with two teams of two bots facing off in the center, with a scramble to grab the ball as soon as possible. After that, it’s up to the holder to dash to their opponent’s net. Along the way, they have to dodge rams from enemy bots, and even the weaponry each bot has at their disposal. This can range from simple bullets that knock your robot to the ground, to whirling roundhouse punches that toss everyone around them aside.
It can sometimes be a bit too hectic in the court. On occasion it can be hard to tell where your controlled character is as the marker to tell your bots apart can get buried beneath effects easily. Also, the way the game handles your bots splitting away from the action can be disorienting at first. But, just like other basketball games with this problem, after an hour or so, your brain adjusts.
However, unlike a more standard basketball game there is no shooting from the court lines in Robodunk. As the name suggests, you can only score by slamming the ball through the net with an almighty DUNK! More points are scored depending on how long you charge your dunk. Your bot hops into your enemies’ net with a quick charge, grabbing a single point for your team.
Or, and this is important, they can max out the charge and dunk from orbit, scoring a potentially game-changing four points, and exploding the opposition’s entire hoop. Yes, it’s as fun as it sounds!
This basic loop is already frantic enough, but each team has modifiers at their disposal. These modifiers can make life easier for you and harder for your opponents! Picked at the start of the match and in between rounds, these can be as simple as quicker run-speed for a bot, or as game-changing as electrifying the ball so an intercepting bot will get a nasty shock mid-pass.
In the campaign these modifiers are unlocked in the Lab, with the cash your team gets for winning matches. This cash can be spent in the Factory to buy new bots too, unlocked with every victory in the arenas. These bots can give you completely new ways of duking it out in the matches.
In addition, each match in the campaign comes with its own upgrades your bots get for winning. These modifiers are permanent, leading to your own star players emerging on the arena floor. However, try not to get too attached to any one player’s new skills – if you lose a match, your team get destroyed. This means all of their hard-won bonus skills will also be struck off their sheets, leaving them in the same state you purchased them.
If this sounds brutal, that’s because it is – but Robodunk is not completely without mercy. In the Factory, you can upgrade your robots with hard-earned cash. These upgrades, though expensive, are permanent – no amount of destruction will take these skills from your plucky squad of Dunkbots.
As the campaign progresses your team carves out a place in the tournaments. Along the way you’ll unlock slides that teach you more about the world of Robodunk. Accessible at any time in the Archives, these quick shots of lore are snappily written and often rather funny, centering around the robots, arenas, and teams of the world, as well as some more esoteric details. My particular favourite was the entry detailing the Pink Shockers’ team creed: “Only one thing matters: style.”
One thing the game could benefit from is the ability to really bond with your team – not in any major ways, but by naming your favourite bots once they reach a certain level. That way your star players will emerge as legends – and their fall becomes all the more heartbreaking because of it. The same goes for team names, I think. These are cosmetic desires that, vitally, don’t impact the moment-to-moment gameplay. But they would allow players to create emergent stories of their own underbot, rags-to-riches Dunkball team.
The game comes with two additional modes, with plans for two more in the future. Endless mode, as the name suggests, is an endless barrage of match after match. Testing your endurance and skill, your goal is to get as far as you can against increasing difficulty and weirder modifiers.
Finally, the all-important custom matches. Playable with AI opponents or local multiplayer, the game comes into its own here as a vessel for chaos. Picking from the game’s bevvy of options, you can tune your match to near-perfection and duke it out with up to three friends. Matches are hectic already, but with someone elbowing you as you pass the ball down court to a waiting bot, they get fantastically, frantically fun!
Graphics and Audio
Robodunk wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to its graphics and audio design. Subtlety is not in this game’s vocabulary.
Right from the title screen, the game throws everything it has at you. The music is bold and brash, with a driving electronic beat behind the game action. The sound design is punchy and solid-feeling, with every input rewarded with an industrial ka-chunk! as you navigate the menus. Of particular note is the crash of a well-dunked ball as it smashes from orbit! It feels great to do, due in no small part to the sound of crackling electricity as you shoot into the sky.
Helping this fun atmosphere along is the game’s unique art style. The robots and environment take their cues from LEGO, with chunky frames built out of individual blocks and pieces. The backgrounds are old-school rubbery models, with a rendering style that really helps the playfulness of the game’s tone.
As for performance, the game has been optimised well for the Switch. I noticed very few dropped frames – only when the action got a bit effects-heavy. There aren’t many stutter or slowdown-inducing moments either. The game itself runs well in both handheld and TV mode; the smaller screen doesn’t make the action too hard to follow.
The variety of modes on offer is Robodunk’s strength when it comes to replayability. The campaign mode by itself is good fun, with diverse challenges that keep you on your toes. Endless mode provides a great challenge for those seeking mastery of DUNK, that allows you to flex your muscles against a slowly ramping difficulty.
But the true potential of Robodunk’s longevity is shown off as a party game. This game, like so many sports games, is perfect for long sessions on the sofa with friends. But unlike the latest NBA game, there’s some classic arcade-esque DNA in there to keep things fantastically frantic! The options on offer keep custom games interesting – like rule sets that encourage alley-looping from bot to bot for more points. Many times when I was testing this game there were unofficial races to see who could get more orbital four-pointers in a single round – screaming ensued.
And more modes are being planned for the future too. Two modes are billed as coming soon on the main menu – a Season mode to take a team forward in the rankings, and the all-important Tourney for structured trash-talking— I mean, competitions.
With the modes on offer now, Robodunk is already good value for gamers who like their games with meat on the bones. But by all accounts, that’s going to get even better in the future.
Robodunk has all the markings of a great – and delightfully weird – party game to add to your repertoire. With great moment-to-moment gameplay, a thoughtfully delivered rogue-lite campaign, and a charming art-style, this is a game that delivers on the promises made by it’s bombastic premise.
I had a great time playing this game for this review, and I think I’ll be playing it in the future too – if only to finally get the ThumbCulture Thrashers into the Arenas when the Season mode comes out! Robodunk nets the Thumb Culture Gold Award!
If you’re looking for something a bit slower, but with no less action, why not check out Tyler’s Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp review here? In the mean-time, keep an eye out for more features on great indie games right here on Thumb Culture!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.