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Monday, May 24, 2021

I can't use my childhood dodgeball strategy in Knockout City

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - You probably can't use any dodgeball strategy, actually.

In the latter half of the famous February 4, 2021 Nintendo Direct, there was a game that... made an impression: Knockout City. Wendy thought it “looked really lame.” I thought it was akin to “Fortnite Dodge Ball” and Kamek agreed. But now that Knockout City has released (and with a limited-time Block Party giving you full access to the game for ten days before you're buried in level caps and micro-transactions that you need to pay your way out of), what is it and how does it compare to dodgeball?

About Knockout City

Knockout City is developed by Velan Studios, which you may remember as the developer of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. It's published by awful gaming industry villain Electronic Arts, for the major gaming platforms. It's free-to-start—which means it's a Gaming as a Service micro-transaction fest. You also need to make an EA account that unnecessarily provides Electronic Arts personal information like your friend list, telephone number, real name, and date of birth. By default, EA will sell your information to third-party advertisers. Per their "Do Not Sell My Personal Information" page, you need to log into their site and check two boxes to disable this sharing.

Anyway, the sport in this game is actually called dodgebrawl. It's like dodgeball, but more... intense and with attitude and in the streets. Like, there's double-jumping and a glider. After doing the training 1, I immediately got put into an already-in-progress match (where my team was losing—someone probably had just ragequit) and I got pwned without really knowing what I'm doing. The game then asked me if I had fun. Of course, I said no.

Knockout City did you have fun last match feedback
After I picked NO, it didn't ask me why I didn't have fun.
...So I'm not really sure what kind of feedback they plan to get from that response.

There's some kind of immediately obvious strategy where someone can't catch a ball if they're already holding a ball, which makes them an easier target. Dodgebrawls seem to be 3 vs. 3 (or can be 4 vs. 4), so it's a pretty good idea for you and a team member to gang up on a guy if you both have dodgeballs. There's tactics in differing when you actually throw the ball (the catching action has start-up and end-lag, while you can keep charging your ball to make it gain more speed... or you can do a Fake Throw to trick them).

I realised after finally winning my third match there are four additional levels of training—that's the game's fault for not making it obvious, not mine, since the game narrator after the first training session literally told me to go play a match. These involve teaching players extra layers of complexity, like passing balls to your team members and perfect catches, which increase a ball's speed tier.

You can customise your playable character (and store up to three) with all sorts of non-gameplay-altering cosmetics. These cosmetics will serve as the primary reason for Knockout City players to spend more money.

Knockout City Results screen Nintendo Switch
I'm gonna assume no matter how many cosmetics you buy, the game's art style will still be hideous.
By the way, your character's back is always to the camera, so you rarely see their face in gameplay.
...That's a neat way to hide how ugly they are.

There are different dodge buttons that also extend height to your jump, and if you throw during these, you can throw Lob Balls or Curve Balls that have different properties than normal throws. You can also turn into the equivalent of a Morph Ball and have your teammates throw you around.

Even though the game just released, it's a really normal occurrence to lose to people who are already organised into clans and are clearly coordinating teamwork while you're playing with random people. Two coordinated moderately skilled players will beat one highly skilled player. No one I had played with in my one hour of play appeared on my Nintendo Switch's Search for Users You Played With, which either means EA is blocking them from appearing, or all of the cross-play going on means most people aren't playing from a Nintendo Switch but from another console. (Though there's another one in the first screenshot!) This makes some sense, since the other consoles support greater communication capabilities than the Switch does, so Switch players are in a natural disadvantage. There are no gyro controls.

My childhood dodgeball strategy

I actually already wrote about my dodgeball strategy in the footer of this article on ending gym class (which didn't happen) in favour of eSports classes. But I'll elaborate:

In the basic variant of gym class dodgeball—note that dodgeball has since been eliminated from gym classes across the universe due to being dangerous to kids’ safety—there are a limited number of balls. The basic gameplay loop of dodgeball is that you need to hit people on the opposing side of the court by throwing a ball at any part of their body. As long as they don't catch the ball in their hands, they're out of the game. You must remain within your side of the court.

Some variants allow you to return to the game if the person that got you out gets out (which requires...a lot of active paying attention), while other variants have you standing outside of the court perimeter if you get out, but you can pick up the ball if it rolls outside of the court and throw it, possibly right behind the backs of the opponent.

My strategy, as a young but small person without much throwing arm strength but also a small hurtbox, was to just let the opponents exhaust their balls and dodge them all. As long as I don't get hit, and none of the balls roll out of the court, the end game would result in all of the balls being on my side of the court, and so I could just time-stall with no way of losing and force a tie. After all, you only win once everyone on the opponent's side is out. If there's still one person left, it's not a win.

Sure, my strategy doesn't result in a win for me, but a tie is better than a loss, and my strategy is only necessary if the rest of my team failed.

The reason this strategy doesn't work in Knockout City is because traditional dodgeball doesn't allow the opposing team to go to your side of the court. In dodgebrawl and Knockout City, there aren't courtline boundaries. You can fall off the side of the stage and die, but you can also outright run up to someone's face and tackle them. That means you can't hog all of the balls. And even if there are no balls available, your teammate can roll up into a ball and you can throw them at your opponent for damage. In dodgebrawl, your teammates will continually respawn until the opponent's score is 10 (+1 point for each enemy KO'd), so as long as the game is going on, there's always the option of throwing a team member at the opponent. I guess that makes it inherently better game design than ordinary dodgeball!

Ludwig will absolutely never spend money on Knockout City and he doesn't intend to ever play it again. The game is online multiplayer only and has no story mode. A game like this doesn't need a story mode, and it's smart for the developers to focus on doing one thing and executing it to their vision, but that also means it'll never be the kind of game Ludwig sticks to. That and the ugly character designs.


  1. Spladogeball done sus(?) bad(?)!?

  2. There's another multiplayer arena thingy being bandied about...I think it's in some kind of restricted early access for now but from what I've heard so far it sounds waaaaay better than Knockout City. It's called Phantom Abyss; have you heard of it?

    1. Haven't heard of it. Seems really new as of last weekend or so! Will be coming out Early Access for a year starting next month. Totally different genre than Knockout City, though.

      Seems like something John Numbers or other Super Mario Maker pros would be really good at.

    2. Funny you should say that--it was actually through an SMM pro's Twitter that I found out about it, GrandPooBear.

    3. Well, that just speaks to how brilliant I am...

      We'll probably see more of the game at E3 2021!


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