Knockout City Review – (Dodge) Ball is Life

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GAME INFO

Knockout City

May 21, 2021

Platform Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC
Publisher EA Originals
Developer Velan Studios

While Velan Studios didn’t design Mario Kart’s first AR iteration for the home, he was quietly working on a way to make Dodgeball a microtransaction-driven competitive shooter. Knockout City is the team’s second game release and couldn’t be more different from their previous work with Nintendo. With a brutal look into the 1960s American, where playing dodgeball on dangerous skyrises or in front of oncoming trains is the best way to represent your street staff, Knockout City brings a new twist to the 3v3 competitive shooter scene. Will Knockout City hit its target, or has this ball already deflated at launch?

After a small amount of introduction to the various tutorials, players are pushed straight into Knockout City’s menus to browse the in-game stores or enter a match with friends or alone. There’s a small hub area to run around when players first fire up Knockout City, but it’s little more than a training playground to bolster core mechanics and teach players how to throw their balls around more effectively. If you want to show off some newly bought threads, you have to play a game with your team.

Knockout City’s various modes are all focused on the very obvious concept of the game: Dodgeball. Whichever of the various competitive modes you choose to play, the name of the game in Knockout City is to get some hands-on time with balls. Knockout City’s core mode is a best-of-3 affair where teams of three work together to score ten knockouts to win the match. Other modes include the typical Free-For-All brawl, a mode in which balls refuse to spawn and teams must sacrifice one of their own to throw a hit, and another mode in which players knock diamonds loose from the opposing team and collect up to a certain threshold. More modes will be coming regularly, with Velan Studios promising a new playlist every week for the foreseeable future.

So, how do you score a win in Knockout City? Like the real-life counterpart of Dodgeball, you have to hit the enemy by throwing a ball their way. Just rolling up on an enemy player and throwing a ball their way sounds easy enough, but Knockout City offers players a wide range of skills to avoid an unexpected knockout. Catching a pitched ball is the easiest defense method, and timing a perfect catch instantly charges the ball for a quick relay. When attacked by an enemy, the edge of the playing field turns red to warn the player and prepare them for a defensive play, but it’s rarely that simple. You can only catch a ball when your hands are not actively carrying a ball, so in such cases dodging is the best tool you have access to. Despite an enemy knowing you’re watching them, it’s a very achievable skill to play with. Players can charge up their shots to give them more speed or even do a quick spin of the Circle knob to give their balls an arc-shaped lob which can be added to an extra mind game by changing the timing of your throws in various ways.

To prevent each match from falling into the same old routine of rushing to the balls and throwing them as fast as possible, Knockout City mixes up the different cards by randomly deciding which of the five currently available balls is that match’s special ball. From balls that cause huge explosions on contact to balls that trap your enemies inside so they can be used as weapons (or just thrown off the side of the stage), these special balls even change a little bit every match. I’m looking forward to seeing what other unique balls and modes Velan Studios has in the works to keep the game fresh.

In a move that shouldn’t surprise fans of free-to-play games, Knockout City is at the very least heavily invested in microtransactions and unlockables. Each season of Knockout City offers players a 100-rank battle pass to unlock new cosmetics, currencies, and various other ways to show off in each match. One thing Velon Studios has done to really make the battle more appealing is to randomize the order in which new goods are unlocked. Each unlockable goodie leads back to the cosmetics that set your character apart from the competition. From gloves and clothing to emotes and explosive designs, Knockout City is explicitly designed to showcase the player’s goods as often as possible. While Knockout City doesn’t allow the player to buy items directly, EA is pretty clear about offering players the chance to purchase Holobux, the same unit currency that is regularly doled out for completing stages in the battle pass (and EA even offers 10% currency discount for those with an active EA Play membership).

Velan Studios focused so much on the neofuturistic vibe and microtransactions of the 1960s that so much of the game feels flimsy in comparison. With only a handful of maps and modes, you’ll soon see all that Knockout City has to offer in the first afternoon. The few voice quips are repeated to nausea during each match, so you may want to mute the game and switch to Spotify or group chat to avoid jumping in front of an enemy ball every time the score ties. Without an unnecessarily robust customization and cosmetic system, Knockout City wouldn’t have nearly enough content to keep players coming back for more.

As new as Knockout City is, I found myself bouncing off the experience faster than Rocket Arena, no pun intended. The core gameplay loop makes for one of the spiciest competitive shooters I’ve played that offered players something more kid-friendly than an assault rifle and I see these as quite popular to pick up and play every now and then (especially as Velan Studios and EA will keep the game free until level 25 as it is). But for a long-term competitive title that will bring players back game after game, only time will tell if Velan Studios can keep up the pace and entice players to keep Knockout City in their online rotation with friends.

Rated on PlayStation 5 (code provided by the publisher).

7.5

Knockout City plays with some interesting ideas for making Dodgeball a simple competitive shooter, but it’s clear that Velan Studios has spent more time building a robust microtransaction system than engaging content.

Pros

  • Cross-platform play and progression
  • Easy to learn, hard to master battle system
  • Accessible to players who want to enjoy a competitive game with their friends
  • Hectic matches you can fit into a quick snack break at work
  • Free trial up to level 25
  • Battle pass randomizes the order in which rewards are unlocked

cons

  • Very few defense resources when two players aim at you at once
  • Limited number of modes and maps available at launch
  • More microtransactions than actual content
  • Announcer quips get really stale after the third game of the day

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