Dodgeball isn’t the most popular cross-over between sports and video games. But Velan Studios and EA are looking to turn that around with Knockout City, a new ‘dodgebrawler’ with a future ’90s aesthetic and dodgeball-based combat.
In Knockout City, players take the role of dodgeballers trampling through city streets and other locales. Each dodgeballer can catch, throw, knock other players out or transform into a ball to become a deadly weapon.
You have an important choice every round: Do you play dodgeball, or do you just spend it messing around with other players? If you can catch a human-dodgeball or trap them with a special Cage Ball, you can do whatever you like with them. Yeet them off the edge, bounce them around or use them to squash other players.
Likewise, you can use one of the many Special Balls on the map to cause chaos and destruction for all.
In some modes, you’ll be working alongside your fellow brawlers, while in others it’ll be everyone for themselves. The power is in your hands, and if you want to be an arsehole then so be it.
“[Knockout City] sort of seems normal,” David Nathanielsz, General Manager of Velan Studios told Kotaku Australia via Zoom. “But it’s not totally normal, because people don’t settle their scores in the way people do here in our world. They settle it through dodgeball.”
If that plot sounds familiar, it’s likely because you grew up in the 90s when Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn’s Dodgeball was a cultural phenomenon. Dodgeball as a sport hasn’t had its fair dues since the film released, but Knockout City might just be its redemption story.
Sadly, I didn’t get to go hands-on with gameplay, but the preview shared with Kotaku Australia looked awesome. The main world spotlighted in the footage was an urban city reminiscent of Splatoon‘s Moray Towers with a bit of Super Mario Odyssey and Overwatch thrown in. It’s bright, colourful and filled with funky neon street style. (All the outfits are totally fabulous, too.)
As mentioned, Knockout City is a multiplayer game, so you’ll have to pair up with mates or strangers to really get the action going. When you squad up, you can have up to 32 players in your team with options to share matching outfits or stylise your crew together via the in-game Brawl Shop.
If you’re after a particular outfit or accessory, you’ll need to head to the game’s store and purchase it — either by earning it through gameplay, or by purchasing it with real-life money. It’s important to note Knockout City will have microtransactions, but no loot boxes. As stressed by the developers, items are purely cosmetic and won’t impact any part of your progression.
“You’re earning those Holobucks [in-game currency] as you play, as you’re ranking up, at a pretty steady and healthy rate. But if you do want to be able to buy more than you can when you’re just earning through normal play, then you can monetise and buy some Holobucks on top of that,” Velan’s Josh Harrison said.
While some will begrudge the inclusion of microtransactions on top of the game’s $US19.99 ($25) price tag, the simple fact is microtransactions are necessary for most studios to fund ongoing development. The plan is for Knockout City to feature new content and ‘seasons’ every 9 weeks or so.
At launch, there’ll be five locations and a ‘Crew Hideout’ for practice, six different ‘special’ balls like the Cage Ball and a Bomb Ball, and a bunch of gameplay modes. These include 4 player free-for-alls, ‘Ball-Up Brawls’ where players need to become the dodgeball to win and traditional 3v3 gameplay.
As seasons progress, new modes and cosmetics will be added.
“We have some content planned for multiple seasons out after launch already,” Harrison told Kotaku Australia. “So we kind of know what’s coming down the pike a little bit. We’d love to keep growing the game and keep bringing out new content and keep introducing new things that we have planned, and things that we haven’t even thought of yet that the community has inspired us to create.”
While the prickly nature of established esports and multiplayer gaming makes it hard to predict the future success of Knockout City, everything shown off to Kotaku Australia in the early preview looked promising. The visuals have a great, energetic style and gameplay looks consistently exciting and fun.
Dodgeball is a sport that certainly deserves a decent video game adaptation, and Velan Studios might just be on the money with Knockout City.
For everyone curious, there’ll be a public closed beta from February 20-21 for PC players. It’ll feature the 3v3 Team K.O. mode, three stages and three special balls. There’ll also be a free full-game trial on release.
Knockout City is due to launch on May 21, 2021 for PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X with crossplay and cross-progression for all platforms. The next-gen versions of the game will support ‘enhancements’ like haptic feedback.
We’ll bring you more on Knockout City as we get closer to release.