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Knockout City hands-on preview: Dodge brawl

It's unlike any dodgeball game we've seen. Shacknews goes hands-on with Knockout City, the latest multiplayer game from the makers of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.

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Dodgeball is a game like no other. It's terrifying to play in school. It brings out the competitive juices as an adult. And no matter what your age, it's one violent activity. If you don't believe me, watch that 2004 documentary about the subject with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller; it's truly an educational experience. With dodgeball staring us in our faces (sometimes rocketing towards our faces) as one of America's greatest games, it's hard to imagine that there haven't been a lot of video game tributes to it. Electronic Arts and Velan Studios, the team behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, feel the same way, which is why they've unveiled their latest effort, Knockout City.

Knockout City takes players to a vast cityscape, where they join together for intense rounds of dodgeball. The rules of the game are extremely simple. Players must grab balls scattered across the stage, which they'll then chuck at members of the opposing team. Points are scored by knocking out players, which means hitting them with a ball twice, though there are ways to KO players in a single hit.

One might expect for Knockout City to operate like a shooter. However, that's not the case. If an opposing player is within the line of sight, the ball is automatically aimed at them. The emphasis is less on aiming at opponents. Instead, the emphasis is on timing. Players can hold on to their balls and opt for a simple throw or a charged shot. Advanced techniques include various trick shots, like a lob shot or shots that ricochet off objects. If the opponent reacts at the right moment, they can catch the ball. That doesn't result in an elimination itself, but those players can amplify the ball's momentum with a catch, resulting in a faster, tougher-to-avoid retaliation throw. If you're convinced the opponent is anticipating your throw, you can do a fake-out to throw off their timing. To sum up, Knockout City doesn't work like a shooter. It operates on reflexes, more like a fighting game.

All of this sounds simple, but as one might imagine, these dodgeball sessions can get a little more extreme. Each session will feature standard dodgeballs along with a random special dodgeball type. This includes the Cage Ball, which puts opponents into a spherical cell; a Bomb Ball, which blows up anyone in its vicinity; and a Moon Ball, which affects the holder's gravity.

There are inevitably going to be moments when you won't be able to find any dodgeballs around, which leads to one of Knockout City's more fun ideas. You must literally become the ball. Hitting the Right Bumper on your controller will make the player themselves into a ball, which a teammate can then pick up and chuck. If you charge your throw and chuck an ally, you can KO an opponent in a single blow. Fully charging a friend will turn them into an explosive that can be tossed in the air. At that point, the teammate can aim for their landing spot and take out multiple opponents caught in their blast.

Velan Studios has ambitious plans for Knockout City in the year ahead. The game will launch with five different playlist options, with the 3v3 Team KO and 3v3 Diamond Rush among the game modes available. New playlist options, such as the 4v4 Ball Up Brawl where only teammates can be used as balls, will be added over the course of the year. Players can also expect to find new ball types, as well as new customization options.

On that subject, customization options will be plentiful. A Street Rank progression system will allow players to earn different items to help deck out their characters. This includes player icons, outfits, and also extends into different animations for entrances, victories, defeats, and MVP wins. In terms of character expression, the animations in Knockout City are always good for a laugh. Even when I lost, I had fun seeing my character curl up into a ball and throw himself in a trash can. Likewise, I loved winning a round and watching my guy put on a pizza suit and do a silly dance. These are some creative ideas at work here and I'm excited to see what comes over the course of the year. Velan Studios has nine-week Seasons planned for Knockout City over the course of 2021, each featuring various Daily and Weekly Contracts to help earn XP.

The development team is aiming to make Knockout City a grand social experience. Players will be able to form Crews of up to 32 friends. Private matches will be available at launch. And those on different platforms should have no issue getting together. Knockout City will support cross-platform play across PC and consoles. It will also feature cross-platform progression for anyone who picks up more than one copy of the game. (No cross-buy on this one, unfortunately.)

Knockout City will release on May 21 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X owners will see graphical enhancements on their platform. It'll sell for $19.99 USD, but those who don't want to commit to a purchase will be happy to hear that the full game will be playable at launch for free. This free trial will run for the game's opening weekend. PC users who want a taste of the action sooner than that can try out the public closed beta on Steam, which will run this weekend and feature the 3v3 Team KO mode. More information on the game and the upcoming beta can be found on the Knockout City website.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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