August 5, 2021
2021 is apparently the year of the dodgeball game. This sport of kings has been woefully underrepresented in video games, with very few ways to show off your skills in 5 Ds of dodgeball in the digital space. When I played the fantastic Knockout City back in May, I was pretty sure it’d be the best dodgeball game I’d play this year. Little did I know that lighthearted RPG Dodgeball Academia was just around the corner.
Otto has always dreamed of being the best ever dodgeball player, so decides to enroll in the greatest sporting academy in the land. Upon arriving he learns about a huge tournament the school is throwing, and decides to gather some friends to try and win the whole thing. This is anything but a traditional sports story though, with chapters based around learning to raise a baby dodgeball, discovering who vandalised the principals car, and even a robot apocalypse.
Dodgeball Academia: There’s always one solution
No matter what wacky predicament Otto and the gang find themselves in, there’s always one solution to the problem – dodgeball. Dodgeball Academia is at its core a sports RPG, and all confrontations will end in a dodgeball battle. These work exactly as you might imagine, with you and your enemies throwing balls at each other until one team is on the ground.
It’s a great replacement for turn based combat, and has a surprising amount of depth. To start with fights will involve throwing, catching and dodging, and you’ll need great reflexes to avoid taking damage. Timing catches can be particularly pretty tricky, especially when a full team of foes is throwing balls at different speeds.
As you progress on your trophy winning adventure, more and more elements will make their way into the combat. Before long you’ll learn how to use charge attacks and your Balltimate ability. When you catch incoming balls your Balltimate meter will fill up, and once it’s full you can unleash your game changing power. Each character has their unique Balltimate. Otto’s is an uncatchable ball hadouken, and there’s also lightning strikes and even a healing spell.
Each party member you convince to join your team plays completely differently, and can be tagged into the brawl at any time. Some characters can’t catch balls, and instead can deflect them back at the baddies with even tougher timing. Stats are wildly different too, as well as charged attacks. If you charge a ball you’ll give it a helpful buff. Otto will add a burning effect for damage over time for example, whereas his best bud Balloony (a humanoid balloon) makes the ball spiral so it’s harder to dodge or catch.
Variety is the spice of Dodgeball
Maybe the most entertaining aspect of Dodgeball Academia is how good the game is at mixing up the combat. Almost every fight in the game brings something new to the table, with environments and enemy attacks varying wildly. One early rival makes his ball vanish then reappear as it travels towards you, another throws his shots high off the screen making it really hard to gauge when it’ll collide with you. The environments bring with them plenty of hazards too, like the forest floor which has tall grass that obscures incoming balls. My favourite of these is definitely the car park, which features the constant threat of cars potentially mowing your team down.
Moving over to the RPG side of things, there’s all the compelling trappings of the genre in Dodgeball Academia. Your characters gain experience and level up as expected, unlocking buffs to their abilities as they go. There’s also a ton of interesting equipment to unlock, which can entirely change the way you take down enemies. Each character can only equip two items, but their effects are impactful enough that this doesn’t matter. I had Otto decked out in gear that made him deal more damage in the air and during the first 30 seconds of a match, then gave his pal Mina items that gave her a buff after 2 minutes had passed for some late game power. Figuring out how equipment can be used to create new strategies is much more fun than just gaining stats.
Plenty of side quests
To get the experience and items you need, you’ll probably want to keep on top of side quests. The game is split up into 8 chapters, and each chapter has 2 or 3 side objectives to complete. These tasks are easily as much fun as the main quest, and usually manage to squeeze in a new mechanic or two to keep you on your toes.
Dodgeball is definitely the highlight of the game, but spending time chatting to the characters around the school is enjoyable too. The cast are as varied as they are charming, and whether you’re chatting to a flamboyant professor or an angry nerd you’ll probably emit a chuckle or two. The writing is absolutely top tier, and gives off those lighthearted Paper Mario vibes I just can’t get enough of.
A truly delightful game
There are so many things I adore about Dodgeball Academia. The vibrant art style and gorgeous character design are a treat for the eyes, and the soundtrack is cheerful and catchy. I love how hard Pocket Trap kept the ball theme throughout as well, from the handy ball form you can take to zoom about the world, to needing to pick up dodgeballs from the ground to be able to throw them at chests to open them.
Dodgeball Academia is a truly delightful game. The combination of wacky sports fiction and compelling RPG gameplay is a match made in heaven, and there wasn’t a single battle that I didn’t enjoy. If you feel the need to grab life by the balls and play something new, I cannot recommend this game highly enough.
Dodgeball gameplay is fantastic
RPG elements implemented flawlessly
Writing is superb
Some areas are too far apart
With engaging dodgeball gameplay and enthralling RPG elements, Dodgeball Academia is one of the best games of the year so far.