Rocket Tag Gameplay

aka: Rocket Tag
When both sides are made up of squishy characters and have extremely powerful guns, you have a case of Rocket Tag Gameplay. The slightest caress from any weapon in the game will reduce anyone to a fine paste, so the gameplay becomes entirely about hitting first and never getting hit yourself. It could mean that twitch reactions and being the first to attack is vital, it could place huge emphasis on dodging and leading targets, or it might just be a case of camping with extreme patience and never giving your position away, but in any case, being exposed to damage is a swift trip to the Game Over screen or a respawn.

The reasons for this are usually straightforward; attacks do about as much damage as you have health, more or less, and your attacks do the same to them. This changes the relationship your game has with damage considerably. In a regular game, it might be worth it to expose yourself to damage to do some yourself. Here, however, you don't have that option. Concepts like hitpoints and damage per second or per turn fall to the wayside in favor of avoiding being hit, ensuring your attacks land, maximizing weapon range, making sure you always attack first, and taking care not to get hoist by your own petard.

This trope doesn't have to be a bad thing. Fast-paced battles tend to be more exciting than longer and tedious ones, and they may require less Level Grinding. In RPGs, this can make each turn extremely tense, as the stakes are always at their highest. In real-time action games, this allows the inclusion of weapons which are difficult to use, like an extremely slow-moving rocket launcher, for example, because if it connects at all there will be immediate positive feedback (like your opponent exploding). In a real-time strategy game, this can place a greater focus on the "strategy" side and the logistics, as once battle is joined there is almost no time for the player to micro orders to troops before the demise of themselves or the enemy.

When this happens in a Boss Battle, you have a Rush Boss. Compare Glass Cannon, One-Hit Kill, One-Hit-Point Wonder and type 2 Mutual Disadvantage. Contrast the inversion, Padded Sumo Gameplay.



Tabletop Games
  • In Magic: The Gathering, the Vintage and Legacy formats are notorious for this, but the worst offender was Standard play just after the release of Urza's Saga. During the Urza's Saga block, it was a common joke that "early game" meant the coin flip to decide who went first, "midgame" was the decision to mulligan, and "endgame" was the first turn.
  • Dungeons & Dragons. In 1st Edition Advanced D&D, there was no limit on spell damage, so (for example) a 20th level magic-user's Fireball did 20d6 (20-120) Hit Points of damage. This meant that at higher levels of play, whichever side gained initiative would probably win the fight. The designers of 2nd Edition decided to put level caps on most of the damaging spells to prevent one-round wipeouts. This also happened between two editions of Basic D&D.
    • Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition is often accused of Rocket Tag gameplay. Not only because damage outstrips hit points (and Hood is merely one example), but because of an excess of spells which instantly kill or cripple their targets (and spellcasters knowing so many spells that they can always choose the one that's most effective, like Mind Rape against a dumb enemy). In fact, it was possible for every one of a caster's spells of 4th level or higher to be very direct "instant win" spells. For example, solid fog (a 20' radius) meant standard movement was limited to 5', or 20' if the target ran as fast as he could in a straight line and remembered he could do that. Evard's black tentacles tried grappling all creatures in the area (in a 30' radius, natch) and usually succeeded. Add stinking cloud (another 20' radius) to taste, which prevents those who fail their Fortitude save from acting and you have yourself a killer combo. At level 7. In core. (In general, spells of level 3 and below can't plain win fights like this, but a failed save against a grease, color spray, glitterdust, or web means you're pretty much screwed while the caster's friends & minions quickly beat you to death.)
    • And if you're a Shadowcraft Mage, then with the right build, you can use silent image (a level 0 spell) with the Gnome Illusionist substitution level and Heighten it to make it do what was just described. Or cast miracles.
    • At mid and high levels, defenses tend to be binary: if you aren't flat-out immune (or they got unlucky and missed), you're going splat! in one round or even one hit, with almost no exceptions.
    • If you plan to play a mid-to-high-level spellcaster (or to a lesser extent, a manifester) against a non-spellcaster, expect to win because you have options. Even if the game is stacked against you, then you are about as smart in real life as your character is, right?
    • Pathfinder eliminated most of the damage loops and frank abuses of 3.5, buffed melee and ranged physical damage so the warrior classes do most of the damage, and still results in this trope due to the prevalence of "Save or Suck" spells. In short, casters can shut down the enemy with spells that inflict status ailments so severe the warriors simply cut down the enemy like butter. For example, fail a save versus Blindness and your life expectancy can be measured in seconds.
      • Not to mention that the aforementioned buffed up damage on warrior classes can make reach the point where a full attack from a martial character will one-round kill most level-appropriate enemies.
  • The Dresden Files, using the FATE system, is tuned to encourage this. The Dresden world is one where people with normal human bodies throw around power that can level blocks, and in the books Harry usually has at least one near-death scrape per fight, so the game models this. It doesn't take much to inflict wounds or death on an opponent (barring Toughness abilities). One or two solid shots is usually enough to end a fight, and many battles boil down mostly to defending and maneuvering in order to set up those one or two solid shots.
  • Exalted seesaws between this and Padded Sumo Gameplay due to its lethality issues. It's trivially easy to throw an attack at someone that is absolutely certain to kill them instantly, resulting in whoever attacks first winning easily... unless the enemy uses one of the game's perfect defenses. Once everyone is using an impossible-to-bypass suite of perfect defenses, the game changes from Rocket Tag to Padded Sumo Gameplay, with no attack ever doing more than making the opponent pay a tiny amount of the game's equivalent to Magic Points.
  • GURPS is this at high TL, especially whenever high-Ro F guns are considered.
  • Urban Fantasy games like Shadowrun and the New World of Darkness have fairly lethal combat systems where commonly-available weapons are capable of killing a player character in less than three hits at nearly any power level. Cover is invaluable as well as avoiding combat altogether.
    • The Old World of Darkness was little better. Since a character gets stunned if they take more than their stamina in damage, and most weapons like a shotgun or a melee-focused character would do just that, whoever loses initiative had best just pray they made it out of the first round still able to take an action. Add this to a game system where the average damage for a shotgun is 4-5 health levels, taking wounds causes increasing penalties to all actions, and you only have eight Hit Points to begin with, and combat was effectively over in a few rounds.
    • Unknown Armies shares the same fate for any gunfight. It's a percentage-based system, and if you make the roll to hit then firearms deal damage equal to your attack roll - as in, if you hit with a roll of 23 then you just did 23 damage, and if you hit with a roll of 75 then you just did 75 damage. The average human has 50 health. You can bump up the relevant stat at character creation or by spending experience points if you want more health, but taking a couple bullets will still ruin your day. The combat chapter opens with advice that you should do your best to deescalate conflicts or just retreat unless there's literally no other alternative.
  • Fights with Master-type enemies (things like Hive Tyrants and Daemon Princes) and, to somewhat lesser extent, Elite ones in Deathwatch and Black Crusade tend to be like this. Since both the players and the enemies can do huge amounts of damage, the fight generally come down to who goes first and who can dodge/parry better.
  • Call of Cthulhu features this due to its attempts to make actual humans as squishy as we really are, for contrast against the bullet-shrugging horrors that inevitably pop up an hour or two into the session. Unlike most games, hit points don't increase as an integral part of character advancement, which means regardless of how many mind-bending abominations your character has faced off against, a reasonably accurate or lucky mugger armed with a .45 caliber pistol can still send you to the hospital or the morgue with one shot. And since it's set in the 1920s, there have been reported incidents of a Total Party Kill in one combat round because one of the bad guys happened to own a Thompson sub machine gun.
  • Sanguine Productions' "Cardinal" rule system, used in Ironclaw 2nd edition and Myriad Song, doesn't use hit points, instead attacks inflict status effects based on how many attack dice rolled higher than the defender's highest Dodge dice, plus their weapon's bonus (usually +2). 5 successes in one attack is Dead, 6 invokes the Chunky Salsa Rule, while two of the less serious statuses increase damage from later attacks, and they stack. After sustaining damage the character can attempt to "soak" a few hits but most characters only roll two, maybe three dice when soaking. In addition, many starting characters roll four or more large dice on attacks.
  • Early-level Stars Without Number is very, very lethal, necessitating a great many low-combat stories and a lot of diving for cover; Warriors are the best at it, in the sense that they have the ability to tank one hit with no damage, but this just means they probably go down on the second hit rather than the first. The high damage output makes sense, given that Magnetic Weapons are everywhere at TL4, but it doesn't make the results any less messy. The free "Stellar Heroes" expansion, aimed at one-player campaigns, does contain variant rules for playing with characters who can stroll through hordes of Mooks rather than being reduced to fine red goo if there are more than two enemies, at least.
  • Power Creep turned Yu-Gi-Oh! into this at higher levels of play. Even assuming your opponent is nice and isn't playing a One-Hit Kill Deck, the speed of the game is so absurd that, given the chance, a well-built Deck will effortlessly pull out three 2000+ attackers and devastate you. Unless one player is very defensively-minded, you won't find any multi-episode Duels in the real world.
  • Forsooth!: An NPC dies if a player is in the same scene and they say they kill them. If it is another PC they have to agree to die; alternately the victim can retreat wounded or kill their killer as they die.

Video Games
  • Many First-Person Shooters have "InstaGib" or "One Shot One Kill" mode where all players are given an overkilling weapon, making everyone effectively One-Hit-Point Wonder.
    • Most FPSs that tout themselves as realistic use this trope. One lucky shot can kill you, and in some games even if you survive you might as well be dead due to wounds.
  • In many of the older 3D fighting games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken you can beat your opponent with 3-4 well placed kicks, and many rounds can be easily ended in a couple of seconds.
  • High-level gameplay in the Disgaea series and other Nippon Ichi strategy RPGs. Due to the way attack vs. defense is calculated damage increases exponentially as levels rise, so more or less any battle over level 500 or so means you either kill your opponent in one shot or die in their response attack. It's actually possible to take multiple hits in the fourth game by stacking defensive abilities, though.
    • Phantom Brave, which allots turns based on units' Speed stat instead of alternating between teams, goes one step further: in addition to being a game of one-hit kills, a sufficiently fast team can annihilate the enemy before they're able to make a single move.
    • There is a significant upside to this, though: Rocket Tag Gameplay for most of the Disgaea games only happens at levels considerably higher than needed to enter the post-game, wherein you spend the vast, vast majority of your time Level Grinding or going through Item Dungeons which have dozens and dozens of floors. If battles didn't get shorter as levels increased, getting the Infinity+1 Sword or defeating the Bonus Boss would take an even more unbearably long time.
  • SWAT mode in Halo is highly tactical twitch-combat, because one well-aimed shot kills, but ill-aimed shots are almost worthless.
    • There's also a multiplayer mode literally called "Rockets" where players are all equipped with, you guessed it, rocket launchers. Explosions and quick deaths for all.
    • There's another multiplayer mode called "Sniper". As with "Rockets", if you hit your opponent, they're dead. If not, that smoke trail just gave away your position.
  • The Unreal games have the InstaGib modifier, as described above.
  • One of the World of Warcraft expansions, "Wrath of the Lich King", did this by accident. Due to a few miscalculations, gear scaled up so fast that the healers had effectively limitless magic for healing, so damage capabilities were increased to the point where any character could be killed in seconds, so that the healers had to be healing quickly and proactively to keep anyone alive. As a side effect, PvP combat became a game of rocket tag where any class could die or kill another in seconds with a lucky crit.
  • Enchanted Arms. You could generally wipe out Random Encounters in two to three rounds if you weren't ambushed. If you were, you were likely to have half your party dead by the time you regained control. As an amusing consequence of this, bosses actually did less damage than the Mooks you'd been killing to get to them.
  • Super Smash Bros. has this as an optional feature. If the damage ratio is set higher than the default, characters will be sent flying even with a low damage percentage. Heavy characters like Bowser can also be sent flying easily with this set up, making power hitting attacks like smash attacks or throws become the major appeal to the fights instead of juggling.
    • Sudden Death sets character damage to 300% and starts dropping random bob-ombs in the area. The first person hit will almost certainly lose. Super Sudden Death in Melee and the 300% option in Special Brawl are both exactly like Sudden Death, sans the Bob-ombs.
    • You can also set up a match so the opposite is true. Heavy-Metal-Slow-Mo Match, anyone?
  • Pokémon, especially in earlier generations, has a metagame role called the "Sweeper". The purpose of this monster is to one-shot the entire opposing team due to a high speed stat, insane damage, and good coverage on the Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors table. The best counter for a Sweeper? A faster sweeper that can one-shot it. Barring that, a Stone Wall or a Mighty Glacier that can survive a Sweeper's attack, so it can retaliate. Many Sweepers focus purely on Attack/Sp. Attack and Speed, so they're likely to be a Glass Cannon or a Fragile Speedster.
    • Generation V in particular seems to encourage this, as nearly any pokemon in OU play that isn't a Stone Wall is more than likely going to get taken out by one super-effective attack. Ditto's new level in badass shines in this sort of gameplay, as his new ability to transform as he enters the battlefield instead of spending a move combined with a choice scarf means that it doesn't matter what the Sweeper is or how powerful and fast it's gotten, at the very best it has a 50% chance of going first.
  • In high-level Final Fantasy Tactics Advance play, especially in multiplayer, there is really only one stat: speed. Thanks to a series of balance-annihilating skills, first strike generally wins. The amount of damage a character can take or deal is irrelevant with Viera Assassins covering half the battlefield in a single turn and instantly killing their target 85% of the time or more, or Moogle Gunners blasting insanely powerful Ultima Shots at ludicrous ranges.
    • Likewise, the original Final Fantasy Tactics lends itself to this sort of thing. By the end of chapter 3, it's a common strategy to stack damage-boosting equipment in every slot, and it's very difficult to build a character that can survive more than a round or two against a high-level Ninja or Summoner. And that's before you start dual-wielding Knightswords, driving your Brave stat as high as it can go and making your attacks ignore evasion.
  • Hotline Miami. The protagonist is a One Hitpoint Wonder (though there are a few masks that change this), but very few enemies can endure more than a single armed hit.
  • Destroyer-on-destroyer battles in the X-Universe are basically this. Their guns are powerful enough that if both ships are AI-controlled, the one that gets off the first salvo usually wins. Averted in Albion Prelude (and in many Game Mods for earlier titles) due to a significant buff in the hull strength of all ships.
  • The Achron metagame has gone through this at various points with strategies such as chronorushing (rushing chronoporting tech, which lets you send an army back in time, to hopefully wipe out the opponent before they can even do anything). It is possible to defend against, but it's usually easier to just counterrush and try to wipe them out even faster.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown is like this, at least towards the start of the game. The enemy units have three hitpoints, which can be dealt reliably by any non-pistol weapon you have available. Your troops also start with three hitpoints, and your enemies are armed with pistols that shoot plasma.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV is so brutal that it doesn't even have a defensive stat to boost! You get extra turns for attacking enemy weaknesses, and lose them if you attack an enemy with something it's resistant to. They play by the same rules. So the gameplay revolves around either annihilating the enemy on the first turn or getting your hp wrecked by the demons.
  • Divekick takes this to the extreme, with every character able to win with only one well-placed dive kick. The only way to not die it to avoid that kick.
  • A popular mod in Team Fortress 2 is "Rocket Tennis" (sometimes also called Dodgeball), where everyone plays as the Pyro, trying to deflect a Critical rocket for as long as possible. Since the rocket moves faster as the game goes on (and the rocket starts out capable of a One-Hit Kill), it's a mad frenzy to reflect like your life depends on it (which it sort of does, since the maps of this mod are Arena-based: one life, no respawning).
    • Modded "100% Critical Hit'' servers turn the gameplay into this trope and can end up being either frustrating or hilarious (depending on respawn times) due to the fact that almost all explosive type weapons deal considerable Splash Damage. Rocket launchers are one of the simplest weapon types to use in the game, and a critical rocket from the basic rocket launcher will instantly turn all but two classes into a rain of bloody body parts, including the Soldier using it if he's too close to the explosion.
    • Another popular mod are "10x servers", where everything in the game is multiplied by a factor of 10. This includes damage.
  • The Djinn system is a major part of Golden Sun, as they allow for class changes, summons, and stat boosts. However, when you use several of them to prepare a more powerful summon, it lowers your stats accordingly (and depending on which Djinn are on which character, their class. Going from Stone Wall to Squishy Wizard is a nasty surprise for the unprepared). Against most bosses, the best strategy is to go into battle with lowered stats, fire off all your summons and survive, gaining back the stats one turn at a time until your Djinn are ready to be used again.
  • Played straight in theory, but averted in Monster Girl Quest. While Luka's defence stat stays at a fixed 5 (25 when you get the only armour in the game), damage stays consistent with what you would expect to receive if Luka's defence went up.
    • The game gets more strategic depth as Luka gains spirits that let him resist or negate several types of attacks, either by deflecting them (Sylph), making his body tougher (Gnome) or making him too fast to hit (Undine). This, at least, until he loses control of them and the monsters start using their own...
  • In Star Ruler, ships can often annihilate each other in their opening salvos, especially at higher tech levels. The speediness of annihilation is often accelerated by some ships mounting subsystems that explode when destroyed, like Anti Matter reactors. However, larger ships (such as the Mile-Long Ship or Planet Spaceship designs favored by many players) are generally very resistant to being instagibbed.
  • In Tetris The Grand Master ACE's versus mode, clearing 20 lines is one possible victory condition. To put it in perspective, 20 lines is only five Tetrises.
  • Golden Eye 1997 has a one-shot one-kill weapon (the golden gun), but players can also unlock and set various game settings to increase enemy damage, reaction time, health, etc (nicknamed Dark License To Kill) to make the levels Nintendo Hard.
  • Early versions of MechWarrior Living Legends had Battlemechs and tanks killing each other with alarming speed; a Heavy Gauss slug could One-Hit Kill any light mech and cripple anything else, for example. Version 0.3 buffed all land vehicles to have more armor to increase the duration of fights. Aerospace Fighters, however, were frequently capable of instagibbing each other with LB-X shotguns and Heavy Gauss Rifles, and was only partially alleviated in the final update with the infamous Shiva "E" being gimped and other variants being tweaked for more tradition dogfights rather than rocket-tag.
  • Sins Of The Prophets uses this, unlike vanilla Sins of a Solar Empire. Frigates drop like flies and even capships and starbases go down with ease if you don't pay attention.
  • The Gears of War series suffered from Gameplay Derailment resulting in this. It was intended to be a cover-based shooter and used paintball as its main inspiration. Instead all anyone uses the cover for is to "wall bounce" around the map quickly while attempting to One-Hit Kill each other with the shotgun. You will be vilified if you attempt to do anything else.
  • Star Fox Assault has several multi-player game modes that result in this, such as Rocket Launcher fights and Sure Shot Scuffle which renders every shot a one-hit kill. Then there's Sniper Showdown, which limits weapons to only Sniper Rifles but gives them infinite ammo. Sniper Rifles are also probably the most powerful weapon, one-shotting anyone unless you have a low Pilot Skill and your opponent has high health (i.e. Krystal Vs. Wolf) but even then it's still just one more shot. And unlike most shooters, you don't need a headshot, as long as the bullet hits, bye bye goes the healthbar.
  • The first expansion of Star Wars: Galaxies was pretty close to this. Weapons were much better than armour, so your ship might survive one hit before getting destroyed (or being so damaged as to be effectively destroyed). Some players took this to the logical conclusion and didn't bother to install armour or shields at all, instead using the extra space to pack in bigger guns or more powerful engines.
  • PlanetSide 2, unlike its predecessor, has extremely fast time-to-kill for almost all its weapons, with sniper rifle headshots and point-blank pump action shotguns being able to One-Hit Kill. Soldiers pretty much melt under enemy fire, and even the MAX Powered Armor can only sustain two direct hits from rockets.
  • Bomberman multiplayer matches generally fall into this, given that players almost always can get killed in one hit. It's somewhat complicated by bombs not really being projectile weapons, along with the need to obtain Power Ups to increase the number and range of one's bombs.
  • Evochron's ships are capable of annihilating each other at close range with extreme prejudice. As such, players will often desperately fling their ships into complex multi-axis spins in order to avoid fire while diverting power to shield generates to avoid being nuked. Luckily, Death Is a Slap on the Wrist (usually).
  • This is what makes Ninja Gaiden II so difficult. Ryu can inflict a lot of pain on his enemies, but so can they on him. Even simple mooks can kill you with no effort if you're not careful.
  • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, at least compared to the rest of the series. Due to the addition of a third tier of character classes, most stat caps are higher in this game than in any other game in the series save for Genealogy of the Holy War and Awakening. The HP cap, however, is class-based and goes up with promotion for the first time, so the Squishy Wizards and Fragile Speedsters actually cap out lower than a first-tier unit in the rest of the series even at third tier. Defensive stats being higher as well mitigates this somewhat, but physical units' resistance and magic units' defense aren't terribly impressive either.

Alternative Title(s):

Glass Cannon Gameplay, Rocket Tag