Knockout City Review: A knockout, sleeper hit in the making
Played On: PS5 (Original)
Electronic Arts’ EA Originals label puts out its second banger of the year with Velan Studio’s intensely fun team-based multiplayer dodgeball game Knockout City.
The game is an online team-based multiplayer game that’s basically the most hardcore dodgeball game you could ever imagine. Back when it was announced at Nintendo’s February Direct, it was easy to see that Knockout City had the makings of something special. Dodgeball is pure gym class nostalgia and something that is rarely, if ever, seen in games. To see it brought to life in a vibrant looking, fast-paced multiplayer game was truly spectacular and Knockout City harnesses all the fun, strategy, and action of a tense and competitive game of dodgeball.
The gameplay mechanics contain all the great basics of dodgeball throwing and are super simple to learn. Players can quickly pass balls to teammates, deliver distracting high lob tosses, and crush opponents with fast power throws. It helps that there’s a very reliable and accurate targeting system so it’s pretty rare that players will find themselves not throwing it in the direction of an opponent. There are also some unique elements to throwing that Knockout City brings to help catch opponents off-guard and even improve teamwork. There’s this great spin move players can do as they’re throwing to give the ball a wicked curve that’s awesome to utilize and is definitely my favorite mechanic outside of throwing your own teammates.
That’s right, if you or your teammates are having trouble finding a ball in key situations you can roll yourself into a ball and be thrown. This is easily Knockout City’s most unique mechanic, and it comes with some great risks and rewards. When it comes to rolling into a ball for your teammates, this mechanic can be a huge tide-turner as it gives players an endless supply of balls and can be made incredibly powerful with how it can instantly knock out opponents with a charged bomb attack. However, when it comes to dealing with opponent in this form, things can take a nasty turn. Not only are players completely vulnerable to attacks when in ball form, but they can even be picked up by opponents and be used to attack their teammates. It’s such a deep and versatile mechanic that it’s no surprise that Velan created an incredibly fun 4v4 game mode centered around it.
As per usual with dodgeball, dodging and catching are just as vital as throwing and Knockout City gives players plenty of options. There’s a great dodge mechanic that allows players to both dodge incoming balls as well as dash into players to knock them back and drop balls if they’re holding them. As for catching, it’s not the same as normal dodgeball where you catch the ball and they’re out, but it still has devastating effects. If you catch a ball thrown by your opponent, it actually speeds up your next throw with it. So, as the ball goes back and forth, someone is eventually not going to be fast enough to catch it. Not to mention, there’s nothing sweeter than baiting out a catch with a fake throw and then punishing it right after.
Valen captures the basics of dodgeball incredibly well while also expanding on them to create surprisingly deep gameplay that stays fresh and emphasizes team-based gameplay. The whole “lone wolf” strategy will get you into trouble fast as Knockout City is purely designed around playing as a team. The best way to get the edge on opponents is staying with your crew and influencing your attacks around your teammates. Obviously, playing with friends makes teamwork much easier, but the simple mechanics even make playing with random teammates just as effective even when you’re not using chat. It’s also worth noting that like clan tags in Call of Duty, you can create your own crews with friends to take down the competition together and get your name out there.
With all these mechanics creating such fast-paced, team-based gameplay, Knockout City is endlessly thrilling fun. The mind games you end up playing with opponents are a total blast and you’re constantly forced to adapt to new situations in an instant – especially when it comes to dealing with the unique balls that are thrown in. Before each standard 3v3 match, the game will randomly select a “special ball” to throw into the match that can range from a multi-ball that gives players three balls at once to a football shaped sniper ball that can become a speeding bullet when charged. It’s great how Valen also creates a game mode centered around this that’s super fun and they clearly know what makes Knockout City special and how to promote these awesome aspects.
Nothing beats the standard 3v3 mode though and it’s because it’s so well designed. The matches are the perfect amount of time and winning always feels attainable. The stages for matches are interesting and even though there aren’t a ton of them or special balls at the moment, there’s a lot of room for growth for future seasons and what’s currently there never gets too old. The futuristic city and construction site settings are well-sized to make it easier to get back into the action and match the look and feel of the characters. The character and costume designs gave me some futuristic vibes of Sunset Overdrive and there’s a lot of great customization options for character cosmetics, taunts, and player card backgrounds that can be unlocked through leveling and completing challenges. Yes, there are of course microtransactions, unfortunately, for things in the in-game store, but the in-game currency is easy enough to gain on its own.
Frankly, there are only a few things that keep Knockout City from being team-based multiplayer nirvana. The button mapping is a little tough to get used to and re-mapping isn’t that simple. It’s just odd to have the double jump not be tapping the same button twice and you can’t change it because it is tied to lobbing. I’m mixed with how the game deals with falling off the edge since it gives the opposing team a point even if you fall because of player error. There are actually some great strategies that can come from knocking opponents off the edge, like grabbing them in ball form and throwing them off or playing edge games with the dodge, that I really enjoyed. However, it’s a little cheap that the other team can just get a point if someone accidently falls – especially with the score limit being so low.
There are also some current network issues with the game that can make it a little frustrating at times. With it being solely tied to online, the game experience is heavily dependent on how good your network connection is and there are times where if there are server or network issues, you’re locked out of the game entirely. Sometimes, I couldn’t even get past the initial start screen. In my experience with the game, it’s only happened a few times, but it’s an incredibly frustrating issue when you’re completely locked out of a game you paid for.
Despite some network issues and gameplay flaws, Knockout City showcases a ton of potential to be a big competitive multiplayer hit. Its simplistic yet deep gameplay and brilliantly well-thought design deliver an intensely competitive dodgeball environment that makes you want to build your crew and show the world who’s boss.