Like a red, inflatable ball hurtling towards you at speed, here’s something you might not have seen coming. Knockout City is an online competitive multiplayer game developed by Velan Studios that aims to bring the recreational sport of dodgeball into the world of video games, and, in turn, to the masses.
If you recognize the name Velan Studios, they’re the team behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. That’s right: the mixed reality racing game that sees physical radio-controlled cars careening around your living room. It’s an odd transition, then, but Knockout City captures the same sort of fun and child-like spirit that is often reserved for Nintendo games.
While a game about 3v3 dodgeball matches might sound like a dreadfully trite affair, you needn’t worry – Knockout City throws in enough crazy curve balls that help transform the simple throw and catch game into something far more appealing. There’s a lot to like here.
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After spending a couple of hours dodging, ducking and diving, it’s clear Velan’s Studio has nailed the fundamentals. And that’s crucial for a game that revolves around such a simple core mechanic: throwing and catching. If these two aspects didn’t feel right, or failed to work as intended, then the whole thing would fall apart like a house of cards.
It’s for that reason that the developer had to create its own custom engine, one that was able to overcome the latency challenges that could ultimately scupper a player’s enjoyment. Timing plays a key role in Knockout City, you see: throws can be caught by your opponents and sent back with more velocity. Rallies are a common occurrence, then, and the ball gets faster with each throw and catch until one player eventually loses their nerve. Thwack!
Catch me if you can
Did we mention that you’ll also need to contend with curved and lobbed throws, fakeouts, modified dodgeballs (like a literal bomb ball) and environmental hazards in Knockout City? You won’t be competing in your typical high school gym here. Oh, and by the way, you can also curl up into a ball to be thrown at the opposition by one of your teammates. If you’re thrown with enough power, you can drop from the sky like a meteor and cause an instant knockout.
And that’s the main aim of the game. Knock your opponents out before they do the same to you. Each player has two lives before they’re deemed to be seeing stars, and matches can quickly pivot back and forth as team’s duke it out for dodgeball dominance.
Again, this isn’t a rudimentary recreation of dodgeball by any means. The extra mechanics like the ability to perform a fake throw add a pleasing amount of depth and strategy to proceedings – battles can often feel like a game of chicken as you psyche each other out before (hopefully) bopping your opponent in the face with a well-timed throw.
You’ll need to coordinate, keep an eye on your positioning, and have laser-like aim if you’re to win. Teamwork is essential if you’re to gain the upper hand on a rival team member who has scary quick reflexes, or wish to turn the tide when the odds are stacked against you.
But what’s the point in winning (or losing) if you don’t look good while doing it? Knockout City is teeming with customization options: you can create your own flamboyant character and assign an awesome end-game celebration or anger-inducing taunt. There’s countless items and emotes to unlock, as has become the norm these days, but Knockout City’s customization options appeared to at least be surprisingly unique.
One criticism we had with the game early on is the size of the game’s maps and ability to barge the ball off other players. You can ram the ball out of another player’s hands or simply knock them off their feet, but we found that matches could quickly descend into an up-close-and-personal brawl fest, which kind of defeats the point of the game. Maps also seemed to be a touch too large for our liking – we found ourselves running around with literally no one in sight for significant portions of a match, and it often interrupted the flow of the game.
It’s a knockout
Knockout City certainly has the potential to be a hit, though. Not just because of its vibrant artstyle and satisfying gameplay, but because Velan Studio and EA – who are publishing the game under its EA Originals label – have made some smart business decisions. The game is wisely priced at $19.99 (about £19.99 / AU$29.99), and supports cross-play and cross-progression. With a new IP, particularly an online multiplayer game, having a large player pool is essential. Thankfully, cross-play and cross-progression means that Nintendo Switch players can throw down against those on PlayStation, and if you were playing on Xbox and switched to PC, your progress will carry over.
Knockout City is also getting a free beta on February 20-21 on Origin and Steam, so intrigued players can give the game a spin. When the game releases on May 21, a free trial will also be available on all platforms (that's PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC) where the full game will be playable. There’s no excuse not to play ball, then.
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