Sports RPGs are still a bit of an anomaly when it comes to gaming, even with the popularity of titles like Golf Story and Mario Golf. With the release of Dodgeball Academia by Brazilian development team Pocket Trap, a new contender has entered the ring. And this time, it’s not a game centered around golf, but dodgeball.
You play as Otto, who has just transferred to the school of his dreams: Dodgeball Academia. All of the best dodgeball players go to this school and he’s looking for some fun matches and to prove himself amongst the greats. He’s also just in time to get a chance to touch the legendary Hero’s Dodgeball during the opening ceremony, which is said to have the ability to unlock a player’s true potential.
In typical anime shonen protagonist style, Otto’s special Balltimate power is not unlocked. However, he is not the only one without a Balltimate move at the end of the ceremony. A young boy known as Nino suffers from what is known as Nopoweritis, meaning that he’ll never be able to unlock a Balltimate move. However, he doesn’t take those words sitting down and immediately labels Otto as his enemy, stopping at nothing to try and defeat him in dodgeball.
From there, the story of Dodgeball Academia unfolds much like an anime, with Otto collecting friends along the way and making a name for himself in the school. This game’s story has a lot of heart and everything is tied up nice and neatly, resulting in a satisfying play-through, with the main story rounding out at around 10 hours.
Dodgeball Academia is an action RPG that takes place solely on the dodgeball court. Whether you’re facing NPCs in a quick match or going through a boss battle, the general gameplay remains the same. After all, it’s dodgeball. Matches can pass by quickly, so you will not want to keep your eyes away from the screen for too long, unless you like having a ball thrown right at your face. Even during boss matches, the tides of battle can switch before you know it.
While dodgeball as a concept is very simple, there is a bit of strategy to Dodgeball Academia. You’ll start off each match racing to the center to grab as many dodgeballs as you can before you start battling for victory. As the match ticks on, you’ll be running around your side of the field as you throw, catch, and dodge your way to victory (or defeat). Catching your enemies’ dodgeballs will take figuring out the right timing, and while at first they will be easy to anticipate, the difficulty soon ramps up as the cast of characters grows. But if you’re not great at anticipating the right time to catch the dodgeballs, you can also dodge to avoid damage as well.
Don’t think that you’ll be able to horde a collection of dodgeballs for an extended period of time. There is a time limit on how long you can hold onto the balls before they explode, dealing damage to you if you’re holding onto them or are in the vicinity. You’ll want to make sure that you aren’t holding onto the dodgeballs for too long.
Eventually, you will unlock a special attack known as a Balltimate move. Different characters have different moves, and these moves have different effects. For instance, Otto will unleash a Kamehameha-like move, Mina will unleash a bolt of lightning anywhere that you direct it on your enemy’s side of the court, and Balloony will place down an AOE healing spell. You are able to charge up your Balltimate move gauge and can execute this attack multiple times in a battle, time permitting. However, you’ll want to make sure that you are in an optimal position to hit your opponent, because you can miss hitting them.
Since most matches are 3v3, if a character is knocked out, they will be placed along the outside of the enemy’s side of the court. From there, they can catch or grab any balls that land near them and throw them at their opponent. So don’t underestimate your opponent just because you knocked out two of their three team members, because you will then need to worry about dodgeballs hitting you from behind.
Variety of Dodgeballs, Throws, and Characters
If you are concerned about the gameplay becoming too predictable or stale, not to worry! While at first the throws that you see will be regular, straightforward throws, Dodgeball Academia quickly throws many curveballs (pun intended). You’ll find certain NPCs have specialty throws that they rely on. This can be anything from balls that zigzag, circle around, accelerate in speed, and so much more. Once an NPC has displayed their type of throw, they typically stick to it, so it only takes a bit of getting used to dodge or catch those dodgeballs.
This is also the case for Balltimate moves as well. While regular NPCs will have very basic attacks, NPCs with unique art can have some devastating moves. You’ll need to stay on your toes to make sure that you don’t get knocked out, as it is possible to be stunlocked.
Along with different throws, there are also different types of balls that can be used. At first, you will mainly see standard dodgeballs, which don’t have any special effects tied to them. But after a while, you’ll start seeing elemental balls, such as a fire ball, lightning ball, or a gum ball. All of these balls have different effects, such as burning, poisoning, or freezing your character in place.
As for characters, you can choose from six characters in the story mode and eight in versus mode. For the most part, these characters play the same, although some characters may have some quirks when it comes to their normal throws, charged throws, and catches. For instance, when using Suneko, you will need to hold the catch button prior to the throw reaching you and actually release once the ball is in the vicinity because she uses a baseball bat to deflect balls, whereas Otto performs an outright catch. Where a lot of these characters shine individually is with their Balltimate moves, all of which are different amongst the cast.
When it comes to difficulty, most regular NPC matches are simple to battle though, and once you get a hang of the mechanics, are pretty easy. The difficulty ramps up with the unique NPCs, who each have their own unique throws, catches, and Balltimate moves. If you’re bad with timing, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed what with all of the dodgeballs flying around. Unfortunately, some characters’ Balltimate moves make it so that it is almost impossible to dodge and you have to catch the onslaught of dodgeballs coming your way, else you get knocked out.
Navigating Through the School
Whenever you’re not battling, you will be running around the school. There are several facilities that you can visit, such as the Infirmary to heal, the Cafeteria to buy healing items, the School Store to buy equipment, and much more. There are multiple locations in Dodgeball Academia that you can travel to that area unlocked as you continue through the story, such as the Forest or the Parking Lot. You will be traversing back and forth through these areas and while the total space between each zone is small compared to other RPGs, it is a minor annoyance nonetheless. The game does its best to make this as painless as possible, but sometimes you can smell a fetch quest from a mile away, especially when you are approaching the end of the game.
As you run around the school, you will notice dodgeballs scattered across the ground. You can pick these dodgeballs up and they will accumulate on your person, much like on the court. These dodgeballs are meant to open treasure chests all across the grounds of Dodgeball Academia. Just like in a match, you would throw the dodgeball that you are holding at the chest, resulting in you receiving whatever item is hidden inside.
There are also side quests that you can take on as well. While on your map, the main story quest will use a yellow circle icon, side quests will be displayed using a blue crown icon. They are not required by any means, but they do offer some wacky scenarios for the characters as well as giving the player more chances to get some experience for their units. Along with those, you can also see all of the players who wish to battle against you, designated by a red fist.
There is a versus mode that allows for local multiplayer between two people. As you play through the game, you will unlock different characters to use during battles. The game will show a pop-up letting you know once a character has been unlocked for Versus Mode play. You can select up to three of the unlocked characters to use, as well as the types of balls that you want available. You can also select the type of court to fight in, and any other special conditions for battle, such as whether you want knockout zones available or if you want to increase the damage dealt.
GRAPHICS AND MUSIC
The art for Dodgeball Academia is mainly a chibi anime style, with a blend of 2D characters and 3D world assets. The mix between the two go very well together and ends up looking very natural, with neither really detracting from the other. There is a bit of fuzziness around the characters while moving, but otherwise, the game looks great and runs smoothly. There is a bit of a load at the beginning, but the load times between zones goes by quickly. The UI design in particular is excellent in this game. Everything is clean, large enough to be readable, and fits in with the styling of the game.
The music for Dodgeball Academia is just as fun and is very catchy to listen to. The music that plays before a match with NPCs definitely has some inspirations from Pokemon. Hearing the jingle just before the screen wipes to black sent waves of nostalgia through my body.
Something that Dodgeball Academia does that I don’t believe I’ve seen another game do (correct me if I’m wrong though) is their “Learner’s Mode”. What this does is allow for users to toggle between their original display language, and one of the other available languages. So for example, if I wanted to see what everything would say in German, I could toggle back and forth between English and German using the “-” button if Learner’s Mode is enabled. This is a really interesting functionality that I think should exist in other games as well, especially since sometimes the best way to learn a language is to just dive right in and see how it’s used in media.
Dodgeball Academia knows its identity and performs its niche extremely well. It is a fun action RPG where you can play as a variety of characters and feel the satisfaction of throwing a dodgeball right at someone’s face, without actually hurting anyone. There are quite a few challenges in this game that keep you on your toes, with new mechanics appearing to whet your appetite. The only downside that I would say the game suffers from is some minor backtracking given its RPG nature, but given the small scope of the area, it’s nothing too irritating. The total game time if you just focus on the story will clock in at around 10 hours, but those 10 hours are used very well. The story wraps up to a nice conclusion and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome.