If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. There are no wrenches in Knockout City but there is a lot of balls. *cue dirty minded laughter* Developed by Velan Studios, the makers of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit and published by EA, under its EA Originals banner, Knockout City is simply put, every jocks’ favorite and every outcasts’ least favorite gym class activity. Dodgeball. How fun could video game dodgeball be, I hear you ask through the screen, well it turns out, very. This is the rare multiplayer game that is easily accessible for any Average Joe to pick up and do well in but there’s enough depth for the truly skilled Purple Cobras to prove how much better than are than the rest of us.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that Knockout City is not a free to play game like most multiplayer games on the market (unless you have EA Play/GamePass). It’s $20 (although at the time of writing there is a free trial until May 30th) and for that price you get one of the most fun and least predatory multiplayer games on the market. Also, despite being a paid game, Nintendo Switch players don’t need a Nintendo Online subscription to play. Yes, there are microtransactions to buy premium currency but only to buy cosmetics that have no affect on gameplay. Not only does the game not push you towards buying the premium currency but there are 900 levels of progression that will award you with cosmetics as well as the aforementioned currency. There’s also challenges, which the game dubs contracts, some of which earn you XP and some award that currency. So, the microtransaction is there if you want but if not, it’s out of sight and out of mind. There’s no paid battle pass either, that 900 levels of progression I mentioned is just the game’s XP system, available to everyone. It’s 9 tiers of 100 levels each.
The first thing you’ll notice about Knockout City is the visual style. It’s got an overtop, cartoony art style that some will like and some will hate. I like it and think it goes well with the vibe the game is going for. All the maps and the cosmetic designs have a futuristic 1950s aesthetic, it’s like Fallout if nobody got nuked. The announcer also sounds like a stereotypical “cool guy” radio DJ, which again fits the vibe.
Presentation is one thing but none of it would matter if the gameplay wasn’t good. I’m happy to report that the gameplay of Knockout City is good, very good. It’s really easy to pick up and play, games last just the right amount of time, not too short, not too long. The basics of the game are very straight forward, you pick up dodgeballs and throw them at your opponents. Two hits score a knockout which you then respawn from. Sounds simple but there’s more to it and there’s hidden depth that the truly skilled players will master but it’s all simple to pick up no matter your skill level.
Aiming in the game lock-on, simply hold the aim button and it locks-on to a nearby enemy. That’s because the real key to Knockout City isn’t aiming and throwing. It’s timing. You could just throw the ball but holding the throw button charges your shot which increases its speed. This is important because you can catch balls that get thrown at you. The faster the ball goes, the harder it is to catch. So, you have to judge whether you want to charge your throw and how much. Certain things like pulling off a perfect catch or passing to a teammate will also charge up the ball.
You can also tackle enemies which knocks any ball they have out of their hands, prime for you to catch and hit them with. You can even tackle into a ball about to hit you to knock it away. There’s also a curve shot that can go around obstacles and a lob shot that hits from above. Each player has a glider that they can use to glide from ledges and you can throw the ball while gliding. You can also fake a throw to throw your enemies off guard. All of these tactics are well taught in the various tutorials and are easy enough for anyone to pull off but are all ripe for mastery.
For the less offensively inclined, you can still have fun and be a valued team member because everyone has the ability to turn into a ball for teammates to throw. A hit from a player in ball form is an instant KO, this can especially come in handy if enemies are near and your teammate doesn’t have a ball. Ball form teammates can also be charged up. When fully charged they become a bomb that explodes on impact with an AOE attack that can take out a whole team if they’re close together. If you get thrown at an enemy and score a KO, the teammate who threw you gets credited as well as you. This not only encourages players to become the ball but also makes it so players who are less skilled offensively are not only still valuable members of the team but get rewarded as such. While in ball form, it’s possible for enemy players to pick you up or catch you and throw you at your teammates which knocks them out and yourself. You can button mash to escape if this happens.
In addition to regular dodgeballs, there’s also various special balls that each have their own ability. Sniper Balls can be aimed and thrown from far range, Cage Balls lock your opponents in ball form to be thrown at their teammates or off the map, Bomb Balls start ticking as soon as their picked up until they explode, Moon Balls make you move in low gravity when holding them and knock you further when hit and Multi Balls gives you three balls to throw in quick succession. Each match will feature one special ball that will spawn in a few areas of the map to be picked up.
While there’s no music during games, sound design is really good. The “whoosh” of the balls as they go past you is great and each of the special balls has their own unique sound to them as well. The best sound is the “bonk” when you successfully hit an enemy. It’s impactful, it’s immediate and it’s extremely satisfying. I’m sure the game would still be fun without that sound but it really adds something to the proceedings. Whenever you throw the ball at another player and hear that sound, you immediately want to hear it again.
There’s a good mix of modes and Velan plans to add more and rotate them in and out periodically. At the time of writing, there’s Team KO which is a 3v3 game where the first team to score 10 Knockouts wins a round. There’s Diamond Dash which has players drop diamonds when KO’d and the team that collects 30 diamonds wins the round. There’s Party Team KO which is Team KO but with only special balls. In addition to that there’s a Ranked Mode that wasn’t unlocked at the time of this writing but will be unlocked once Season 1 starts.
Knockout City also has a pretty great Clan system. In keeping with the futuristic 50s theme, they’re called Crews and you can have up to 32 players in your Crew. You can customize your Crew logo which appears on your characters back and your Crew Banner which displays your username before games and in the menus. Every Crew also has their own car that they enter each match in and you can change your Crew name whenever you want with no penalty. The customization options are very small when you first start but there’s lots to unlock. Crew customization items unlock the same as player customization, by leveling up or by buying in the in-game store.
There’s really nothing bad I can say about Knockout City. I didn’t encounter any bugs or server issues which is not only unheard of in this day and age of multiplayer/live service games but really impressive considering this was made a 50-person studio. It also ran smoothly on every system with no frame drops. The only negative I can think of is that there’s isn’t a ton of content at launch but more is planned and what’s there is fun enough to justify the $20 price tag regardless It might get frustrating if you get teammates that truly don’t know what to do but that’s not the games fault as it does everything in its power to make sure that anyone can hop in and know the basics well enough to be passable. On top of it all, it offers full cross-play and cross-progression. This is simply put, an extremely fun game to play. Everything about it just works and it works well. Velan Studios has made a multiplayer game that anyone can pick up and play, truly skilled players will be able to master the depth of all the techniques, and one that doesn’t feature predatory microtransactions. That’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s if it pays off for them. I hope it does.
Knockout City is available now for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch & PC
Rating: The Paddington 2 of Dodgeball Games
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