The Perfect Throw

Man, who doesn’t love dodgeball?  The recreational pastime of wielding a rubber ball and absolutely plastering people in hopes you don’t get blown up yourself.  Home to schools and trampoline parks abound, and movies that get quoted way too much nowadays, it’s a little weird that it’s taken up until 2021 for there to be a high profile video game release regarding the, uh, sport?  Event?  Game?  But lo and behold, the publisher of last year’s Multiplayer Game of the year Rocket Arena, EA Originals, is back with another colorful bombastic throwdown that has taken up more of my life than I care to admit.

EA, most notably known as that company that’s more than willing to take your money in the most nefarious ways, have etched a bit of a small spot in my heart with their EA Originals line, which has been killing it the past few years with titles like A Way Out, It Takes Two, Rocket Arena, and the Unravel series.  But a multi-billion dollar company going out of its way to put promising titles on its pedestal is so beneficial for a game like Knockout City, a multiplayer dodgeball action title by Velan Studios, with a deep catalog of titles as, uh, checks notes, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.  Huh.

Knockout City pits players in 3v3 dodgeball combat while giving the recipe a few pinches of color and style to add in the mix.  You’ll start your career with creating your character, with customization in clothes, hair, gloves, gliders, and taunts to name a few.  Knockout City decided to skip the paid Battle Pass and provide a free one to all users, with up to some 900 levels of content to unlock.  These unlocks are all randomized, which I loved seeing as almost every character in my 45 hours of gameplay had a different spin on how they looked and wasn’t contrived by the same unlocks on the same levels for every player.

Moreso, the inclusivity of making the numerous aesthetics with an androgynous overtone is a welcome one.  No outfit is set on a specific gender, and all hairstyles and facial features can be mixed and matched to go with how you want your character to look: even if most of the face options look like your character is slightly melting.  Additional color options for outfits can be unlocked with Style Chips, which can unlock one of the four options on outfits and other clothing pieces.  These come a little few and far between for my liking since some outfits require a generous amount, and the first 100 levels of the Battle Pass give out a couple every 20 levels.  They do show up periodically in the Brawl Shop, which has multiple other items for sale with Holobux, Knockout City’s premium currency, which is unlocked through the Battle Pass, completing contracts (daily, weekly, and career quests), or via micro-transaction.

But what has pulled me in the most is just how fun, addictive, and fair the gameplay is.  Knockout City gives a quick 20 minute tutorial that goes over everything that you can do in the game, and there isn’t much to worry about picking up initially.  You can pass, shoot, dodge, catch, and roll.  But branched from those basics is a surprising amount of depth with a skill ceiling that’s higher than expected.  You can feint shots to bait the invincibility of attempting to catch the ball, you can curve and lob your shots around and over walls, you can adjust the speed of your shot with how long you hold your throw, messing with timing and allowing for easy hits.  Dodging into players can jostle dodgeballs from your opponent, catching a ball allows you to throw it even faster as a buff for good timing, you can roll into a ball and be the ball as your teammate chucks you at your enemies, or launches you into the air for a devastating ultimate attack.  With Knockout City staying at a level playing field in terms of weaponry and moves, the reward for absolutely tanning an enemy team is amazing and has pulled many more matches out of my sleep schedule, and I’m super okay with that.  I’m also very tired.

Matches are set along 6 maps, ranging from rooftop standoffs to construction sites to busy streets.  Each map is vibrantly detailed and colorful, and with no minimap to guide you (and you don’t really need one as maps are condensed enough for the style of play), many areas are unique enough to be callout points to better find your way.  Each match is rolled with a random special ball, some personal favorites being the Bomb Ball and the Multi Ball, to shake up the landscape.  Having a different special ball can change how each map is played out, and really stretches the longevity of only having a handful of maps to play.

Knockout City also has different game modes to fiddle with.  Diamond Dash is essentially Knockout City’s answer to, “What if Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed but with dodgeballs?”  Face off is a 1v1 throwdown, and there are a rotation of party modes like a free-for-all and a mode with no dodgeballs so your teammates are the weapons.  These are, okay?  I’ve found the most enjoyment with the standard 3v3 Team KO but it’s a good time to not be in the same breath as Bleeding Edge.

And while I haven’t divulged too much into it because uber-competitive modes bring out the absolute worst in me: there is a competitive league where pre-made teams do battle and fight for the highest season ranking they can get, with rewards given at the end of the season based on your placement.  I have taken great love for this not for the league play, but the Crew system you can build and customize (shout out to Sbarro for the team pickup).  Pick any team name you want (I’ve seen some pretty hysterical names that toe the line of what they’ll allow), customize your team icon, and rep your team when you play.  It’s another lovely addition to the applied individuality they want to give to their players.

While there are some negatives to Knockout City, there really isn’t a whole lot to be mad about.  There’s a little server lag when you start the first round of a match but matches are buttery smooth from then on.  I’ve had instances where I’ve been stuck in the menu screen as I joined in on a match and couldn’t get out, but it’s remedied with a quick quit-out, and joining matches is lightning fast with queue times being less than a minute at any given point of the day.  I would like to see more items implemented in the Brawl Shop, as daily refreshes only bring one to two new items a day and can cause your store to be barren for weeks as you wait for more items to stockpile in.

But man, Knockout City is solid.  Before you look into the favorable $19.99 price tag (as well as it’s inclusion in the XBox Game Pass and it’s free up until you hit Level 25), the amount of competitive depth and deep customization is staggering, and it’s user-friendly roadmap for unlocks and gameplay is pitch perfect to bring in curious players and make them seasoned veterans.  All I can hope for is that Velan Studios and EA provide the additional content it needs to continue being a fresh product, because they’ve got a fucking winner here, and it stands as of this writing as the best multiplayer game of 2021.

And it’s not even close.

Reviewed on XBOX Game Pass via EA Play on PC.