A lot of games build upon Pong‘s simple premise, but few really refined it the way Data East’s Windjammers did in 1994. The one-on-one flying disc title added in fighting game-style special attacks, and managed to create a highly competitive experience that thrived in arcades. Despite the depth to the gameplay, it never received much widespread acclaim, and it was thought to forever be a game that would only be beloved by a few gamers.
Thankfully, a few of the people who loved Windjammers ended up becoming game programmers and that’s how Disc Jam was born. Making an updated version of Windjammers seemed like a natural fit for High Horse Entertainment, as the duo of former Activision employees both had a soft spot for the game. They didn’t set out to clone the experience, though, as they had aspirations of making a game that had its own twists on Data East’s title.
Same Premise, New Twists
The biggest and most noticeable difference between Disc Jam and its inspiration is that the court is displayed vertically like modern-day tennis titles are. This change of perspective makes the play area seem much larger, and that’s where the game’s sense of movement really shines. Players have full 360-degree movement unlike Windjammers, which operated on an eight-direction input, and it was really the only way to go. Running around the area in order to grab discs before they reach your goal is thrilling, and it’s what makes every volley feel both important and enjoyable.
Another major difference is that Disc Jam allows for team-based play, and all of the matches I played ended up being 2-on-2. I was able to pass the frisbee to my partner, and coordinate different strategies for offense and defense. For example, I spent a lot of time playing near the net and was trying to intercept the frisbee right when it crossed over to my side, this gave my opponents less time to react, but also meant that my teammate was all by himself if the disc got passed me. Thankfully, this ended up working for my team more often than not, and we were able to pick up a pretty dominant victory.
What really impressed me with Disc Jam is how much depth there is to it. The controls are more complicated than Windjammers, which is a two-button game, and I was constantly learning small tricks as I played (such as how to pop the disc up in the air). A lot of the more advanced maneuvers I pulled off were by accident, but this just makes me want to really master the game once it comes out in 2017. It’s still very easy to pick-up and play, but there’s a lot going on underneath.
Elephant in the Room
One of the biggest surprises of the PlayStation Experience was that Windjammers is coming to PlayStation 4 (and Vita) complete with online play. It was a surprising announcement since developers had been interested in using the license previously, but had a hard time working out a deal with the current owner. Publisher DotEmu was able to do it, though, and now Disc Jam had competition & shockingly wasn’t the only disc-based sports game of 2017.
My instant reaction to the Windjammers announcement at PSX was that the Disc Jam dev had run into some really tough luck. I ended up asking the two-man studio about how they felt about Windjammers coming to PS4, and they had a very different perspective on it. High Horse Entertainment was far from devastated, as they were actually thrilled by the news. They had known about the announcement ahead of time, since Windjammers was also set to exhibit at PSX, and believed that both games coming out around the same time would help get each title more attention (which seems to be true since here I am talking about both of them). Their logic seems sound to me, and after getting hands-on time with each game, I was swayed to their line of thought.
As strange as it may seem, 2017 is set to be the year of the disc. Both Disc Jam and Windjammers can successfully co-exist on the market and offer up different experiences on the same basic idea. High Horse Entertainment’s game feels significantly different from its clear inspiration, and manages to make a game that needs to be mastered in new sorts of ways. It’s certainly a great time to be a fan of disc sports, as both titles will be out in 2017.