In our current place in the time stream, battle royale games are very commonplace. There is Fortnite and then there are all the other games that are the end result of a board room meeting where the person at the end of the table stated “make a Fortnite”.
Sometimes we have games like Apex Legends that smuggled a few too many things from Fortnite (though, admittedly, Fortnite stole a lot from Apex too). Then there are ones that took battle royale in fun new directions like your Fall Guys and, to an extent, Ninjala.
So, when EA showed off Knockout City at the big Nintendo Direct earlier this year, it was very easy to dismiss it as another Splatoon or Fortnite knockoff. I did. I absolutely did.
But, recently, EA granted me four hours to play the game, and my first thought when the Nintendo Switch servers closed at the end of the play session was: “You open this damn game up right now.” I wanted back in hard.
Now, personally, I might be biased. Knockout City focuses on dodgeball. While this concept might conjure up some unforgettable memories of gym class where you were forced to compete in this sport while your gym teacher took out his frustration over his marriage on us, my memories of dodgeball actually come from a good place.
I started a league in my 20s. It grew to12 teams of 5 and a literal league where we’d play at local tennis courts. It was weird and the cops shut us down constantly (if you don’t think they enforce that “this court for tennis only” rule, let me tell you something) and I absolutely adored it.
Luckily, Knockout City has both dodgeball and weird down to an exact science.
When you enter the game you get to design your players. I say players because you actually get to slap together three avatars that you can switch between the outside of matches at any time. This not only gives you triple the customization but it also rules if you’re going to make a squad.
You can make your own crew with a banner and ride that you roll in on. And you best hope that they wipe the servers before launch because if not, guess who got “Phantom Thieves.”
That’s right, they’ll steal your heart, I’ll steal your name.
As for the game itself? Graphically, it’s not going to win any awards. While the stages look stolen straight from Splatoon, the characters look like stunted Fortnight characters complete with painful modern fashion. I loved working my grey hair on a character that was wearing an outdated hairstyle mixed with painful modern fashion.
But the gameplay is where Knockout City truly shines. All games take place in roundish maps where dodgeballs randomly appear on spawn points. You can jump fairly high and hitting the button a second time will allow you to use a glider to float. I found that not only is it a good way to clear gaps, but you can also use it to stop on a dime in midair before you accidentally jump out of cover.
You automatically pick up balls and autolock on enemies to throw them. If anyone gets hit twice, they have to respawn and the other team gets a point. The first to ten points wins.
The really cool dodgeball aspect of this game though is the fact that you can catch the ball. When you’re targeting the edges of the screen glow red. If you can find your attacker in time and face their direction, hitting LZ at the right time causes your character to catch the ball. You not only don’t take a hit but you can now throw the ball right back at your opponent which feels amazing.
It didn’t take me long to figure out the timing as you can see here. I try and fail to defend myself against two players from the other team who aggressively teamed up on me.
And despite the fact that the only weapon in the game is a dodgeball, there’s a surprising variety in attacks. Not only are there occasionally special dodgeballs that explode or are rocket-boosted but, as I found out (and the game did not teach me), I could roll into a ball.
At first, I thought it was stupid and I didn’t understand it. I thought it was their attempt at making a squid-like running system but then I couldn’t roll uphill well so I stopped doing it. Then, I was screwing with it and ran into a teammate. The unarmed teammate automatically picked me up and was able to throw me at an enemy, taking them out. I was hooked on this mechanic.
I found myself hovering around other teammates and when they threw a ball, I’d immediately roll into them. Not only would it give them a second shot that the enemy didn’t expect, but it also would put me in close proximity, screwing with them and creating an immediate pincher maneuver.
Here are two parts where I used this trick that made me really happy.
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As you progress, much like in all battle royale games now, you unlock cosmetic items based on the theme of the season you’re currently in. This can be everything from regular sunglasses and fishnet gloves to crazy things like animations and special holograms that appear when you die.
Surprisingly, the game reminded me a lot of Rocket League where there was really one solid mechanic to the game but enough ways to go about it where it kept things exciting. Could the game get old after a while? Possibly, but it didn’t feel like it with how badly I wanted to bust my way back onto the servers when my time was up.