When we think of sports games, basketball, football, hockey, and baseball typically come to mind. However, it’s often the less prestigious sports that really lend themselves to the video game world. Velan Studios’ Knockout City is a dodgeball game that feels incredibly satisfying and competitive.
A true underdog story
Knockout City envisions a world without guns, where disputes are settled in the streets with chaotic matches of Dodgeball, erm, Dodgebrawl, as the game calls it. In Knockout City, two teams of (usually) three face off in Dodgebrawl matches, which consists of three rounds. Each round is won by the first team to reach ten points. Points are scored by getting a knockout on an opposing player. Everybody has two hearts of “health,” getting hit by the ball will deplete a heart. Lose two, that’s a knockout.
In order to prevent yourself from being hit by the ball and knocked out, players have a few different options. You can pull off dodge moves, or hide behind cover in hopes that the ball won’t hit it’s target. The most strategic response however is to catch the ball. If players can time it properly, they can catch the ball, which will also immediately charge it, allowing them to throw it back at a high velocity.
The balls in Knockout City hone in on their targets, meaning that you don’t actually have to line-up a pathway in which you want the ball to follow, or worry about trajectory. Instead, your main concern is either catching an enemy off-guard, or cooperating with teammates to overwhelm them. The core gameplay here is really solid. There’s a decent array of mechanics and abilities, and it feels like the ceiling for skill is sky-high.
Simple is better
Speaking of gameplay, one of the core concepts of Knockout City is what the developers call “flat” gameplay. This means that there are no loadouts, no upgradable classes or perks that influence how well a character performs. When it comes down to it, everybody is on a level playing field, everything else is just noise. I liken it to Rocket League, where regardless of the flair and showmanship that may come with the cosmetics, when you boil it down, the game is incredibly simple and balanced.
It’s this approach that gives so much integrity to the competitive side of Knockout City. As I got more familiar with the game’s mechanics, I started to dig into the arsenal of moves at my disposal. You can fake a throw, which may cause an enemy to prematurely dodge or go for a catch. This makes them extremely vulnerable to being hit for about 1-2 seconds. You can roll or spin while in the air, which can be used to trick shot, either throwing the ball in a wide vertical or horizontal arc. These maneuvers also extend your time in the air, if you’re just looking to avoid a ball or get onto a platform.
Knockout City does throw some interesting wrenches into its standard gameplay. There are five special balls that can be found on a map, with a random one selected at the beginning of the game. This includes the Moon Ball, the Sniper Ball, the Bomb Ball, the Multi-Ball, and the Cage Ball. These balls hold special properties, such as allowing players to jump really high (Moon Ball), deal damage to an area of effect (Bomb Ball), or even trap an enemy and render them helpless for several seconds (Cage Ball). I liked the change of pace that the special balls added to the game, and they rarely felt cheap or unfair.
You better duck
The natural flow of gameplay in Knockout City leads to some really exciting organic moments. I remember one instance where an enemy chucked a ball towards me from behind. Thanks to the game’s red outline that warns you of an incoming ball, I was able to whip around and catch it. I immediately sent the ball back to the enemy player. For about the next 10 seconds we were caught in an intense battle of throwing the ball back and forth at max velocity, waiting to see who would blink first. Finally getting the edge and knocking them out was straight up thrilling.
There’s a lot of experiences like this to be had in Knockout City. I’ve had sequences where I rapidly took down an entire team, catching incoming balls and pulling off every move possible to take them out in rapid succession. It’s the same rush of excitement you get after getting a multi-kill in a shooter, or getting a clutch score in a sports game. The sound of the ball smacking a character is always super satisfying.
For as strong of an emphasis that there is on gameplay is in Knockout City, I really wish the game gave more attention to stats. I’d love to see how many knockouts I’ve gotten in my career, or how many games I’ve won. It would also be great if you could see a leaderboard during and after matches, to see how you’re performing in relation to the competition.
A city full of Knockouts
Knockout City is incredibly flashy and over-the-top in style. You can customize your character with flaming hair, or give them braggadocious match introductions. These cosmetics are earned through leveling up and completing challenges. I found there to be a deep amount of customization possible in Knockout City, even if most of it is locked off when you first start playing.
Players can also create a Crew, which is Knockout City’s take on clans. Players can invite friends and other players they meet online to join their Crew, and then team up together for online play. Gaining experience and leveling up with your crew will unlock new rewards, allowing you to customize the car you arrive in, as well as construct a logo to wear on your clothes.
I’d love to see Velan Studios experiment and diversify the offerings in Knockout City as far as game modes go. There’s currently four modes, three of which feature 3v3 gameplay. The fourth is a 1v1 Face-off Mode. It would be great to have a 2v2, or even a 4v4 chaos mode to shake things up.
On the winning team
I was thoroughly impressed with Knockout City. Velan Studios has created a dodgeball game that has solid mechanics and is really easy to pick up. The skill ceiling is also incredibly high, making room for some really competitive gameplay. With a plan to heavily support and add on to the game over time, Knockout City is a welcomed addition to the sports game pantheon.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Knockout City is available now for PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch for $19.99
- Dodgeball mechanics are simple and tight
- High skill ceiling
- No loadouts or classes
- Abundance of stylish cosmetics
- Could benefit from more variety in game modes
- No proper leaderboards/stat tracking
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Knockout City review: Dodgeball dynasty
Some of my favorite childhood gaming moments came from the NES's Super Dodgeball. I wonder if it does splitscreen for that sweet couch co-op?
Unfortunately I don't think there's split screen in the game
Split screen is dead. Long live split screen