Review – Dodgeball Academia
I think dodgeball might be the most famous sport out there that isn’t known for having professional players or showing up at the Olympics. We’ve all played it back in school, we all know the rules by heart, yet the sport barely shows up in any kind of medium after we grow out of 6th grade, with the exception of a handful of Kunio-kun spinoffs. That injustice ends now, all thanks to São Paulo-based studio Pocket Trap and their fantastic sports RPG hybrid, Dodgeball Academia.
Dodgeball Academia is a complete hodgepodge of a crap ton of influences stemming from cartoons, manga, and classic video games which resulted in one of the most unique games I’ve played this year. Everything I will write in the following sentence will be explained in further detail, so just bear with me. This is an arcade-esque sports game, structured like a JRPG (most specifically, Pokémon and Paper Mario), clearly influenced by sports manga, with an adorable hand-drawn art style that reminded me a lot of modern Cartoon Network shows. Sounds confusing and out of place, but damn, it works like a charm.
In Dodgeball Academia, you play as Otto, a kid who has recently moved to the titular Dodgeball Academia (a more than obvious nod to the My Hero Academia manga/anime). It’s a magnificent school where kids study and train to become, well, the greatest dodgeball players in the world. Upon arriving at the school, he starts meeting a bunch of completely crazy and/or adorable characters which follow the typical stereotypes you’d find in your run-of-the-mill shonen: the angry and edgy rival, the badass who’s stronger than everyone else for some reason, the statistics-loving nerd, and of course, the band of misfits who join your team in order to win the school’s annual dodgeball tournament. And that’s just the first of many arcs!
Every single character in this game is hand-drawn with very little frames of animation, in order to resemble a modern Cartoon Network show, such as The Amazing World of Gumball. These completely wacky characters contrast beautifully with the polygonal backgrounds, creating an art style that while obviously influenced by Paper Mario, looks completely unique. All while managing to run at a stable 60fps in both docked and portable mode, whether you’re exploring the overworld or during the game’s “combat sections”.
You explore the titular academia like you would explore a sports school in games like Golf Story and the Game Boy Color versions of Mario Golf and Mario Tennis. Interact with students, buy equipment, hone your skills by challenging kids for a battle or two. The difference is that a good chunk of the combat sections happen when a rival student sees you from a distance, exactly like a trainer challenges you to a battle in the Pokémon games. I loved this detail, as it fit perfectly with Dodgeball Academia‘s premise and setting.
The combat mechanics play out like a traditional dodgeball arcade game. Pick a ball, aim at a rival located at the opposite side of the field (where you cannot step into), and throw the ball at them. You can also evade enemy attacks in different ways, depending on which character you’re controlling at the moment, as well as perform a counter attack, which also varies from character to character. Otto can grab a ball without getting damaged if you press a button at the right moment, while one of his friends, the hyperactive Mina, can kick a ball back at whoever threw it for increased damage. The more counters and blocks you perform, the faster you’ll be able to fill your “Balltimate Meter” for a super strong (and super ridiculous) final attack.
Better yet, Dodgeball Academia manages to implement RPG elements into the mix without ever feeling out of place. With every enemy you defeat, you gain experience points. Your strength and HP increase whenever you level up, but you can also improve your stats by wearing different kinds of equipment, such as a pair of gloves which allow you to drain your enemies’ HP whenever you hit them with a dodgeball, for instance. There are tons of sidequests scattered throughout the game, as well as hidden pieces of “treasure” which can be unlocked by grabbing a dodgeball in the overworld and throwing them at a specific “chest”.
There’s not a lot I didn’t like in Dodgeball Academia. Most of my issues with it are small nitpicks, but I feel like I should point them out regardless. For starters, while the game’s soundtrack is pretty good, I was a bit disappointed with its overly simplistic sound effects, which sound like they came straight out of a mid-range Game Boy Advance game. Finally, I had one or two issues with the overall responsiveness of the controls, especially whenever I wanted to counter or block an attack. There were a handful of instances in which I swore I pressed the button at the right time, but the game decided I wasn’t worthy of a block. In no moment were these issues deal-breakers, but I felt I had to point them out regardless.
Don’t miss out on Dodgeball Academia. This game might sound like a tremendous mess on paper, but it perfectly manages to mix arcade-like dodgeball matches with JRPG mechanics and cartoonish visuals to create something completely unique. Consider picking this up on a portable like the Switch, if possible. Its short matches, coupled with its fast loading times and tons of well-paced sidequests felt right at home on the system due to its “pick up and play” nature. Then again, no matter where you decide to play it, you’ll have a blast with Dodgeball Academia. It’s easily one of the best indie games of the year.
Dodgeball Academia features an art style comprised of well-crafted polygonal environments and 2D, “Saturday morning cartoon” styled characters, which is a feast for the eyes.
Arcade-like dodgeball mechanics which are responsive for the most part, coupled with RPG elements that, surprisingly, do not feel out of place.
A pretty catchy soundtrack more than makes up for the somewhat simplistic sound effects and lack of any kind of voice clip whatsoever.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Between the great visuals, hilarious dialogue, and the fact it manages to mix an arcade dodgeball gameplay loop with RPG elements, Dodgeball Academia is an addictive and engaging experience that feels right at home on a portable.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Dodgeball Academia is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Dodgeball Academia was provided by the publisher.