Review – Handball 21

The sport of handball isn’t exactly well-known in America, but it does have a substantial following in other countries, namely Europe and South America. I didn’t grow up liking it, but I sure played it a bit during my school years, as this, just like dodgeball, was a PE staple. I was curious to take a look at Nacon’s Handball 21 for a few reasons. One of them was novelty; I really wanted to see a studio attempting to adapt such a fast-paced and physical sport into a video game. The second one was the fact that Handball 21 was being developed by the same developers behind Rugby 20, a hideously ugly, but surprisingly robust simulator of another niche sport. Maybe lightning could strike twice in the same year. Or so I thought…

Handball 21

Each team has a goalkeeper, but their AI is so useless that you can basically pretend they don’t exist.

It’s hard to describe what handball is for the uninitiated, but I’ll try my best. Think of a mix between futsal (or indoor football in some parts of the world) and elements from basketball, such as having to throw the ball on the floor in order to move forward. It’s all about passing and trying to penetrate your opponent’s defenses with a well-placed shot. You can’t enter the goalie’s perimeter on foot, but you can “invade” it if you jump towards it. That is, if you can actually get past a barrier of defenders. It’s a very fast-paced game in which both teams score a lot of goals per match.

Eko Software did a fine job with Rugby 20, at least in every other department but the visuals. So I was hopeful they were going to do a passable job with Handball 21 at the very least. Sadly, I was wrong. This might actually be one of the clunkiest sports games I have ever played. With the exception of an actually impressive amount of fully licensed leagues and teams (even though the game does not feature national teams), this game is completely devoid of redeeming factors.

Handball 21

Those matches are so quiet…

What we have here is a very clunky representation of the sport. You simply keep passing the ball until you reach your opponent’s perimeter and then try to shoot the ball with a very unresponsive combination of buttons. However, I’ll give the developers credit for one thing: you have a variety of shots at your disposal, with or without jumping. Whenever you perform a jump shot, time will slow down for a millisecond, allowing for you to aim the ball towards the goal. Even though this aiming mechanic almost never works as it should, the goalkeeper AI is so absolutely incompetent that as long as you aim your shot towards the goal, you’ll score. The goalie will do the rest of the job for you.

The lack of a decent tutorial makes Handball 21 even less newcomer-friendly. This isn’t as well-known as football or basketball, so a compendium of rules and historical information on the sport would have been a welcoming addition to make newbies more interested in checking it out. As it stands, however, this is catered towards die-hard handball fans, and even they won’t exactly like the end results. You won’t be able to pull off technical shots or interesting set pieces. It feels like a sports title from twenty-five years ago, both in the sense of limited gameplay, nearly nonexistent soundtrack, and the absolutely hideous visuals.

Barcelona x PSG! I swear it’s not the UEFA Champions League.

You have your standard assortment of modes, as well as a mode clearly inspired by FIFA‘s Ultimate Team. Without the microtransactions, at least. The difference being that you are given free range to create your own jersey, while only being to choose between a handful of crests. Sadly, earning points to buy new players for your team requires, well, playing Handball 21 for longer periods of time. Suffice to say, that’s not exactly a mode you’re going to dive in too deeply.

Jump shots are the easiest way for you to score a goal.

Handball 21 is not a good game in any sense of the word. Die-hard handball fans will probably be able to ignore this game’s myriad of issues and enjoy what’s basically the only available simulator in the market. Everyone else, be it a casual sports fan or someone who has never heard of handball before, will quickly become fed up with how lackluster this game’s presentation and gameplay are. Avoid this one, even if you were interested in checking it out due to sheer curiosity.


Graphics: 3.5

Handball 21 runs on the same engine as Rugby 20. Its animations are similar to those featured in Rugby 20. Suffice to say, it’s as ugly as Rugby 20.

Gameplay: 3.5

The fast-paced and complex nature of handball hasn’t been properly translated to this clunky control scheme. The game also does a very poor job of teaching you how to play this incredibly niche sport. To make matters worse, goalkeeping is useless in here.

Sound: 3.0

The menu songs aren’t terrible. They actually get the job done, even if they’re very repetitive. Meanwhile, the game is basically silent during actual gameplay sections.

Fun Factor: 4.0

Die-hard handball fans will probably be able to ignore this game’s myriad of issues and enjoy what’s basically the only available simulator on the market. Everyone else will become fed up with this game’s lackluster presentation and controls pretty quickly.

Final Verdict: 3.5

Handball 21 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of Handball 21 was provided by the publisher.