Knockout City Review - A Delightful Smash
Who would have thought that a dodgeball video game could be this fun and exciting? The marvel of the Velan Studios/EA collaboration with Knockout City is how it manages to feel so fresh and yet familiar at the same time, turning the shooter genre on its ear with some innovative twists while wrapping it all up in an infectious cartoon package. It’s accessible enough that anyone can pick it up and grasp the basics fairly quickly, but there’s also a lot of nuances to allow for more complex strategies that can separate beginners from the more advanced players. In a smart move, the game was initially made free to try out for all platforms (until May 30) during a Block Party event so that people could easily get hooked and enticed to then spend a little money on the game. With all that being said, let’s get into the guts of this Knockout City review.
Knockout City Review
First off, forget everything you know about dodgeball, whether that’s the schoolyard game you played at recess or the competitive kind that once led Patches O’Houlihan to teach us the 5 D’s of dodgeball and the unforgettable nuggets of wisdom like, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” The brand of dodgeball in Knockout City instead involves matches that take place in wide open environments free of any sort of sides or lines of play, and they typically pit teams of three against each other. Each round typically has a set number of knockouts (or kills for the shooter fans) that you need to reach in order to win, and the first team to win two rounds claims victory in the match. There are trick shots to keep opponents guessing, diving tackles that jar balls loose from the grasp of your adversaries, and gliders that you can deploy to help get the jump on someone from above.
Simply put, it’s a tremendously addictive experience, and the short length of matches makes it easy to continue saying “okay, just one more match” until you realize that you’ve been repeating that after the last five or six matches (it’s easy to lose count). The more you play, the more you’re rewarded with the ability to upgrade and personalize your character to your own tastes, which makes for an effective tactic when there are so many ways to make your dodgebrawler stand out from the rest of the pack.
Though there are largely only positive things to say about Knockout City, let’s break down further why the game works as well as it does, and any areas where it could perhaps use some small improvements to optimize certain aspects.
What I Like
The basics of the dodgeball in Knockout City are pretty simple: throw the ball, dodge the ball, and catch the ball. The neat twist though, especially for people like myself who don’t play a lot of shooters and might otherwise struggle to find an entry point, is that you don’t need to worry about aiming your shots as the game will automatically lock on to nearby targets for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can just go around firing the ball wildly at anything that moves, as you’ll need to worry about charging your shot for more power, avoiding obstacles that might be in the path of your target, and making sure to utilize the always-important element of surprise whenever possible so that your ball can’t just be easily caught or dodged.
But it’s the more advanced controls that can really separate the best brawlers from the rest of the pack, and these can take some time to really learn and utilize properly. Be prepared to spend a number of games (and going through all of the helpful tutorials) to properly acclimate yourself. Before too long, you’ll be expertly making use of trick shots like curveballs and lob shots to keep people from timing their catches consistently. You might even roll yourself up into a ball so that your teammates can hurl you at your opponents, whether as a ball or in the form of a bomb for maximum damage.
The action during a match can get fast and chaotic in a hurry, particularly when you’re in the midst of a showdown with multiple opponents and balls are flying at you from all directions. Either way, the game gives you enough tactics that are actually useful even in the hairiest of situations (except maybe those awful 3-on-1 gang-ups) to be able to get out of them.
Gameplay & Strategy
Knockout City is truly a team game (though there are solo matches available) because if you’re not on the same page as the rest of your squad, it’s very easy for you or someone on your team to get knocked out. One easy but vital thing that many teammates still fail to do on a regular basis when you play with randoms online is pass the ball to each other to ensure that a ball gets charged for maximum effect when finally thrown at an opponent. Similarly, a lot of people seem to forget that if there’s an opponent nearby and you don’t happen to have a ball to throw at them, a teammate will do just as well because of course they can roll themselves into a ball at a moment’s notice and become a weapon in a pinch.
Aside from that, a fundamental thing to keep in mind when you’re part of a team is that you should never be leaving a teammate to be ambushed by opponents. At the very least, an opponent who is attacking teammates might be able to knock them out, but they’ll also be so preoccupied with their prey that they’ll inadvertently make themselves vulnerable too. This can be the perfect time to make sure that no teammate is knocked out without someone paying a price.
It can also be advantageous to gain the higher ground on the other team whenever possible and then unleash a sneak attack from above, deploying your gliders to coast down to their level while peppering your opponents with lethal shots that they’ll never see coming.
Environments & Ball Variety
Part of what makes each match unique is that it takes place in one of several different locations that all have separate quirks that allow for unique strategies. Rooftop Rumble, for instance, sees you flying from one building to another over the wind currents between them, providing a natural chance for attacking unexpectedly. On the other hand, Galaxy Burger’s rotating restaurant can have you using the disorientation that can occur here to your advantage when stalking players from the opposing team.
It’s not only the environments that will shuffle with each match either because most matches will also have a special type of ball that behaves a little differently than the other run-of-the-mill dodgeballs that you’ll find across the map. These include the moon ball, which will have you leaping around as if you were on the moon while holding it but then sending people to the moon when hitting them with it, and the cage ball that puts players in a temporary trap when you strike them. There’s also a bomb ball on a timer that will have you being very careful about when you throw it, and a sniper ball that can target opponents from a distance and then shoot an absolute laser beam in their direction.
Matches would likely get boring pretty quickly if they were all being played at the same location with the regular dodgeballs, but the constant shuffling of environments and special balls keeps things from ever getting too stale and will have you adjusting your game plan depending on where you are and what kind of balls are in play.
In the early days of the game, there’s been some good variety so far in the online playlists that are available to allow people to choose just what kind of dodgeball game they want to engage in. The standard mode is the 3 vs. 3 one that has you tallying knockouts in order to win rounds, but there’s another in which the goal becomes to collect a set number of diamonds that brawlers carry and then drop when they’re knocked out. There have also been modes that mess with the kinds of balls available on the map, including one where there are only special balls to grab, and another 4 vs. 4 mode where there are no balls to use at all and you can only use your teammates and opponents as balls.
There’s also been the introduction of league play in recent days that utilizes the standard 3 vs. 3 mode and allows you to ascend tiers with success in matches in a manner similar to other games like Rocket League. This also helps to keep you playing against people who are roughly on your same level. You can also start your own crew with your friends across different platforms and earn specific rewards to help brand your crew and make it as unique as possible.
A wacky dodgeball game like Knockout City might have seemed pretty silly had developers decided to go for more realistic character models, but fortunately they’ve opted instead for a fun cartoon style that actually enriches all of the surrounding mayhem. The avatars are big enough that you’re able to spot opponents well from a distance and grasp when they’re about to launch a ball in your direction. The balls themselves look great too as they fly through the air with a pronounced trail behind them — reflective of how fast they happen to be moving. Sure, it might owe at least a small debt to Fortnite in the same way that so many games seem to in the wake of that juggernaut, but it’s also an appropriate direction for this kind of offbeat game to embrace.
People don’t want their brawler to look exactly like everyone else out there during matches, and the customization options that you either earn by leveling up as you play or purchase from the store with Holobux give you a lot of different ways to set yourself apart by showcasing your unique style. As you might expect, you can obtain rewards that will allow you to alter your face, hairstyle, and your outfit. However, there are also more interesting options like the opportunity to change even the voice of your brawler and the poses you use at the beginning and end of matches.
What I Don’t Like
I’m legitimately hard-pressed to come up with anything all that negative to say about this incredibly fun game, but I have experienced a couple issues with matchmaking that have been somewhat frustrating. In one of the first games that I played, for example, my team started the match with only two players to square off against the other team’s full team of three, and my teammate and I were forced to endure the entire match without getting another person to round out the squad. Obviously, we lost in the end because a game’s a lot harder to win when you simply don’t have the numbers to compete with the other team.
Prior to starting another match, there was some sort of glitch that caused loading into the game to stall indefinitely, so it eventually seemed like exiting out was the only option to allow me to go ahead and find another match instead. By doing that, the game labeled it as quitting and this can apparently possibly affect my ability to find other matches, which just shouldn’t be the case given how I was only trying to get into a game and step away from one that wasn’t happening.
Knockout City certainly has all the potential in the world to be a massive hit because of how it offers gameplay that’s slightly different than all of the other shooters out there while managing to deliver pulse-pounding action and cerebral strategies in the midst of the mayhem of tossing balls at each other. The matches are quick enough that you’ll want to leap into another right away, and the progression system allows for a wide array of customization to your brawler. Those looking for true competition can take their skills to league play where it’s easy to envision a large community convening to make this an online sensation in the days to come.