Dodgeball sucks. I recall, during some school recess years ago, getting beaned in the face with a dodgeball. Blood, everywhere. Across the pitch, some kid stood, sneering, as all the other kids laughed. I think he broke my glasses? The specifics are lost to the fog of memory, but the feeling — total, abject humiliation — remains tattooed on the folds of my brain. So I thought I was over dodgeball until I played Knockout City. Despite its poorly received reveal trailer, Knockout City is surprisingly pretty fun.
Knockout City, a multiplayer game released last week for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC, is basically Dodgeball: The Video Game. Yes, there’s a heightened sense of reality at play, but in terms of capturing the spirit of dodgeball — the rules, the frenetic pacing, the irrepressible line of thought that, if you’d just stood an inch to the left or threw a ball a second earlier, you’d have won the game and not been laughed at by all of your classmates — Knockout City knocks it out of the park.
Each match features two teams of three. The goal is simple: Throw dodgeballs at each other. Get hit twice and you’re out. First team to score 10 outs wins the round. First team to win two rounds wins the match.
The controls are just as simple. Walking over a dodgeball causes you to automatically pick it up. Press R (on Xbox) to throw the ball, which automatically targets opponents in range. There are other tricks — you can throw curveballs or toss lob shots, pass balls to teammates, or even curl up in a ball and have a teammate hurl you at opponents — but that simple action, “pull R,” remains the core. Similarly, if you can time it right, tapping L will allow you to catch incoming balls.
This is all wrapped in the trappings of third-person that have become standard by now. You can sprint. You can dash and double-jump. You can whip out a glider mid-air and float, BotW-style. If you’ve played a third-person game in the past five years, you’ve played the bones of this one. As such, picking up Knockout City is a breeze.
Still, it has quirks that take some getting used to. For instance, in addition to standard balls, each match features a special ball, which sports unique powers. One, for instance, grants you low gravity while you’re holding it, allowing you the benefit of a higher jump. Another traps opponents in a spherical cage, which means you can pick them up and, hilariously, toss them off the side of the map. (This is not so funny when it happens to you.) A third explodes. You won’t find that in a real dodgeball game.
Initially, Knockout City might look like the latest in a line of multiplayer games boasting a similar aesthetic: a bright-coloured, cartoonishly styled third-person game that’s unabashedly silly and wacky and sooo zany. (Think: Destruction AllStars, Fall Guys, Ubisoft’s upcoming Roller Champions, and, of course, Fortnite, to name a few.) We very well might be approaching a bubble here, as with the dirt-brown war shooter bubble of the 2000s, but Knockout City is a worthy example on account of how engaging it is from moment to moment.
Connecting a shot results in a pop! sound effect, not unlike what you’d hear in an actual schoolyard. When you take someone out, an effusive screen-wide “You knocked out SoMuchWorseThanAri69” banner pops up, filling the borders of your screen for a few seconds, to really drive home the point that you’ve succeeded — far more satisfying than the small kill-log tucked into the corner of a Battlefield or Halo. Hear, hear, for positive affirmation!
On the flip side, getting taken out is maddening. If you’re anything like me, you’ll momentarily overanalyze every single misstep. Could you have dodged a second earlier? Or maybe timed that catch a little bit better? But hey, you’re back in five seconds. No time to spiral — unless your K.O. ended up costing your team the game, at which point you can spend the entire inter-game lobby wallowing.
EA really wants people to play Knockout City, and is pulling out all the stops to get players on board. It launched as part of the Game Pass library, at least for members of the Ultimate tier, who enjoy access to EA Play. Through May 30, the game’s Block Party — a fancy term for “free trial” — is available to everyone. The game further sports all of the trappings that engender that “just one more round” feeling: cosmetics, in-game currency, and a levelling system that ensures you’re constantly showered with both. Win or lose, you always walk away with some sort of progress. So why not play 10 more minutes? You might unlock a sweet leather jacket, after all.
The game’s first season — yes, like every multiplayer game these days, Knockout City will feature seasons — kicks off tomorrow, and will add a new map and a competitive playlist to the mix. Predicting the life cycle of multiplayer games, particularly from the jump, is a fraught proposition. But so far, Knockout City, a game that’s fun even when you’re getting hit in the face by a giant rubber ball, is off to a promising start.