Dodgeball Academia Review: Gonna Dodge the Very Best

If 2021 has taught me anything it’s that there needs to be more dodgeball video games. Earlier this year we were blessed with the fantastic multiplayer dodgeball game Knockout City (you can read my review of that here) and now we have another dodgeball game that’s completely different and just as joyful.

Dodgeball Academia is the complete opposite of Knockout City. While the latter is a competitive multiplayer game, this is a single player RPG. The best way to describe it is that it’s like Pokémon but instead of solving all of life’s problems by capturing wildlife and making them fight to the death, you solve all problems with games of dodgeball.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start playing Dodgeball Academia is the incredible art style. The game features cartoony and simplistic 3D environments mixed with 2D character models that look like they were ripped straight out of a Cartoon Network show. It’s all very bright and vibrant, with colors popping off the screen. There’s also nice little flourishes on the character animations like hair that flops around or my personal favorite, a character named Balloony, who’s head is a literal balloon that deflates inwards when he gets hit with a ball. It’s an incredibly charming game and the art style is a big part of that.

The character designs themselves are also suitably cartoony. Other than the aforementioned Ballony, there’s a good mix of characters who more closely resemble regular humans, as well as more outlandish designs like characters resembling robots, characters that actually are robots; there’s a vampire, a pirate (not named Steve though), a couple of monkeys, some Mr. Men looking people and more. The cast is as colorful as the graphics. Every major character has their own distinctive look that matches how their written and makes sure they’re never lost in a crowd.

Story wise, it’s pretty standard sports anime stuff. You play as Otto, a new student at Dodgeball Academia, the top Dodgeball school. The school is powered by a mystical dodgeball that also unlocks the students dodgeball superpowers that they then utilize in a team tournament to determine who’s the very best. The main quest is broken up into episodes that all have different main plots while also advancing Otto’s story of making friends, and becoming the best dodgeballer around. It’s all standard stuff but what elevates it all is the incredible writing. Dodgeball Academia is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. I don’t think there was a single dialogue exchange that didn’t get at least one chuckle out of me. The premise of the game is silly and the game knows it.

While there’s no voice acting, that doesn’t stop the sections of the game devoted to dialogue (of which there are many) any less entertaining. As I said, the plot is a pretty standard sports anime story with everyone competing to be the best and the power of friendship and all that jazz. Even in the most serious of sports anime, it’s inherently very silly and Dodgeball Academia knows this and it leans into the silliness of it all. The game is full of incredibly witty dialogue exchanges with a mixture of meta humor, self deprecation and excellent character work. The option to skip dialogue is presented but you’ll never want to, lest you miss some terrific banter. The humor is packed in every ounce of the game, from constant reference to real world things like Nintendo and Amazon to little things like a character with big buck teeth whose dialogue is spelt with a lisp. It would be one thing if the game was simply full of jokes, but much of the humor comes from the characters themselves.

For as distinctive as their designs are, their personalities are doubly so. The Cartoon Network vibes don’t simply stop at the art style as every single major character seems ripped straight out of a show. There are minor characters in this game that are more memorable than most AAA protagonists. Everyone from the self-doubting Balloony, to hyper-violent Mina and all the way down to the capitalism loving Lunch Lady, Dodgeball Academia is packed to the brim with characters who you will love.

Good writing can only get a game so far though, in the end it’s all about the gameplay and Dodgeball Academia mostly sticks the landing. The game is an RPG that is very similar in structure to Pokémon. You won’t be capturing anything but battles are started by talking or walking by opponents much in the same way you would a Pokémon trainer. Winning battles earns Otto and all his team members experience points to level up and get stronger. You don’t learn new moves at certain levels like Pokémon but you do get boosts to things like your strength and charge attacks. There’s even an infirmary that will heal your whole team to full health. It even plays a jingle while it does so.

Battles is where the Pokémon similarities end as combat encounters are real time matches of dodgeball where three of your party members faces off against enemy teams. You throw dodgeballs at the enemies until their health reaches zero and they’re eliminated. Eliminate the whole team and you win the battle. You can also catch balls thrown at you to defend yourself. Combat plays out much like a side scrolling beat em’ up but instead of punching faces you’re throwing balls at faces. While you could just mash buttons to throw and catch until you win, there’s more depth than that. You can charge your throw to make it more powerful but at the cost of leaving yourself open to attack, you can also throw the ball slowly to make the enemy go for a catch too early which leaves them open to attack. There’s also the option to charge your focus which gives you and your team stat boosts but you can only do this when the other team has a ball so it’s risk vs reward.

Throughout battles you will charge up an Ultimate Meter (called a Balltimate Meter) that when full let’s you pull off a super move. These range from a healing pool, to summoning lighting to what is basically a Hadoken. When used at the the right moment, these can absolutely change the tide of a match. Each character has their own unique super, they’re really fun to use and can be devastating to the enemy teams. Enemies also have their own supers and while they aren’t as cool as the ones you have access to, they’re still a challenge to dodge and defend against.

Over the course of my playthrough, I never got tired of combat. There was always enough variation in encounters to keep things fresh. Whether it be from something as simple as a good variety of enemy team composition, to things like games with special modifiers like oncoming traffic in a parking lot or ice that makes you slip and slide. There’s also lots of different types of dodgeballs. You have your standard balls but also ones with status effects like electrical damage, ones which slow you down with ice or stick you in place with gum. There’s also the simple fact that smacking people in the face with a dodgeball is fun. I can see why it’s a staple amongst family sitcom bullies. Enemies get knocked down, you can see their eyes close as their head snaps back. There’s a satisfying “thwack” as you nail someone and it never gets old. Carefully dodging as balls come flying across the screen and then just hammering an enemy with charge shots is a dopamine rush. It’s frantic and fun.

Unfortunately there are some areas of Dodgeball Academia that are more like having wrenches thrown at you. A minor complaint I have is the map. It’s good for getting you from quest to quest but for places like the infirmary and item shop, which are pretty important places in an RPG, the game doesn’t mark them on the map nor does it make them distinctive from other buildings so you pretty much have to memorize how to get there. It’s not too much of an issue as the campus area where they’re located is fairly compact, but it can be a little frustrating when you first start. There also isn’t a map for interiors so if there’s a quest inside, you’re on your own.

That’s a fairly minor complaint though and didn’t really negatively affect my experience. What did affect my experience was how some of the side quests are laid out. Dodgeball Academia is an RPG and so it has side quests but it doesn’t tell you what level you should be to take on any of these side quests. That might not sound too bad but there were multiple side quests where I found myself facing off against enemies that were 10 levels above me who could kill me in a couple of hits. That’s frustrating enough to deal with but what’s even worse is there were a few quests that involved taking on multiple battles in a row where the first couple battles were with enemies around my level only to end up having to face someone 10 levels above me. Since these quests had back to back battles, there was no way to heal in-between which isn’t a big deal when fighting enemies in your level range but having to fight someone 10 levels above you without full health was maddening and bordering on unfair. I’m all for a challenge but there’s no reason to be put in that situation.

The other thing that I didn’t enjoy was one of the special forms of dodgeball they have. I mentioned how there are some battles with environmental modifiers like if you have a battle in a parking lot, cars will drive through. Well one of these environmental modifiers happens in a forest with tall grass. In these battles the court is covered in tall grass which means you can only see the tops of heads. You can sometimes see a ball through the grass but more often than not, you won’t be able to see anything. You won’t know where balls are to pick them up, you won’t know if a ball is coming at you so you can’t defend yourself and you can’t really see who you’re aiming at. These battles take everything that’s fun about the combat (dodging and catching balls, strategically using your focus and different throws) and turns it into mindlessly running around and throwing balls hoping to win. Every time I had one of these battles I groaned.

Other than those frustrating battles, the game is a blast and as soon I got back to regular combat and more dialogue, I quickly forgot any frustration I had. The game is just so charming. The soundtrack also deserves a special mention. The music in the game is a mixture of catchy and whimsical tunes while you’re exploring to battle music that will most definitely make you feel like the Globo Gym Purple Cobras. It all fits the tone of the game very well and some of the tracks will have you humming them long after you stopped playing.

Overall, despite some hiccups with a few side quests having unfair difficulty spikes, Dodgeball Academia is a game that just filled me joy more than anything else. With a colorful cast of characters, a beautiful and distinctive art style and some genuinely hilarious writing, this is a game that is bursting with charm and personality. It’s not a long game, you can beat it in around 10-15 hours depending on how many side quests you do and how many random NPCs you stop to chat with but I feel if it were any longer it would risk overstaying it’s welcome. Despite that length, it is jammed packed with memorable quotes and characters and it will stay in your memory far longer than a lot of 40 hour AAA games will. Learn the 5 D’s of dodgeball and you’ll be the very best, like no one ever was, all without harming the wildlife, just the people.

Dodgeball Academia is out now on PC, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch & Xbox. It is available on GamePass for Console, Cloud & PC

Rating: Dodging Balls in the Semi-Finals Hoping to Face Paddington 2 in the Finals

We rate things on a scale based on how close something is in quality to Paddington 2. To learn more please read this post

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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