Knockout City is a competitive multiplayer title with a focus on dodgeball, but it also blends additional mechanics and strategy to form an addictive and colorful “dodgebrawl” experience. Two teams battle it out in arenas filled with plenty of obstacles (and of course, dodgeballs) while trying to claim victory across a slew of colorful, fleshed-out maps. Knockout City is being enthusiastically promoted by EA, and it’s easy to see why after spending several hours with the game.
Developer Velan Studios has been clear since Knockout City was first announced: this isn’t dodgeball, it’s dodgebrawl. I was skeptical of the distinction after the initial reveal trailer (since it looked exactly like dodgeball to me) but I started to understand the distinction as more information was revealed. The only thing that’s really similar to dodgeball is avoiding incoming attacks/throws while trying to hit other players in the process. That’s where the similarities end and the differences that make the game truly special start to shine.
Knockout City launched with a variety of different maps that feel similar to Splatoon’s arenas in both scope and size. They even sport familiar, two-word names, like Rooftop Rumble, Concussion Yard, and Knockout Roundabout. Levels are big enough to encourage strategy and movement without feeling overwhelming or cramped. They’re the perfect size to keep things flowing while also providing the opportunity to confuse and surprise opponents.
There are so many little mechanics and fresh ideas packed in that come into play and remix the core concept of dodgeball into something even more exciting. In team-based modes, passing the ball to other players powers up and charges your shots, which bumps up their deadliness and speed, while also making it easier to hit opponents. You can also charge balls up yourself by holding down a button, but to really Overcharge your attacks, you’ll need to counter your opponent’s attacks by landing a few perfect catches. There are also a variety of Special Balls that have extra abilities and effects in addition to being a projectile to lob at opponents.
The aptly named Multi-Ball lets you hold three balls at once, which provides you with plenty of power. It only takes two hits to take someone out, so this particular Special Ball can really turn things around quickly. Thankfully, the in-game announcer will let everyone know when this is picked up — regardless of who picked it up, things are about to get intense. There’s also the Bomb Ball, which is essentially a timed grenade that can clear an area. The Cage Ball traps people in a ball-shaped prison — they can either be used as a weapon against other players, or you can just toss them off the map.
One of my favorites is the Moon Ball, which knocks opponents high into the air with the added bonus of a slow recovery. Better yet, it also lets whoever’s holding it jump higher and fall slower. This one in particular benefits from teamwork and communication, since it’s easy to take an opponent out with the second hit while they’re trying to recover after getting blasted with a Moon Ball. That kind of cooperation permeates the entire experience, which is part of what makes Knockout City such an engaging multiplayer title.
Different balls and strategies combined with team passes and callouts are easy to pull off with effort and coordination. Verbal communication isn’t even necessary thanks to the in-game callout system, which lets you fire off an emote with the tap of the D-Pad. The game certainly benefits from team tactics and you can roll with a crew of friends if you so choose, but it’s just as easy to play with random players too. This is crucial for a squad-based game, and so I’m glad Velan Studios got it right. I’ve grown to love this game and its fresh take on multiplayer, and I want it to stick around for years to come. There’s a 1v1 mode available for those who want a more intimate affair, but admittedly, I didn’t spend too much time with it — this game shines when played with teams, after all.
At launch, there are a few different modes available that hint at what’s to come in the future. To elaborate, game modes display the remaining number of days left to play them under their description, so it’s clear that Velan Studios will be rotating and changing them out over time. That being said, there’s already a great variety at launch.
Team KO is the standard 3v3 dodgebrawl mode where teams need to win two out of three rounds in order to claim victory — rounds are won by being the first to rack up ten points. Diamond Dash is essentially Knockout City‘s version of most shooters’ “Kill Confirmed” mode. but without the guns or grizzly deaths. The first team to hit thirty points takes the round, with the first team to win two rounds emerging victorious. Party Team KO is identical to Team KO but with only Special Balls; this mode is frantic, fun, fast, and a total blast. There’s also Face-Off, the aforementioned 1v1 mode based around Team KO. This variety at launch shows that the team at Velan understands exactly what makes the central mechanics fun and how to build modes around it. I’m excited to see what’s coming down the pipeline, but I’d content coming back to Knockout City time and time again, even if these were the only modes to choose from.
Not unlike Splatoon, the story and setting are left intentionally vague and mysterious, but there are cryptic hints that come in the form of environment clues and the in-game commentary provided by “The DJ.” I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops as the game continues and evolves. Admittedly, it isn’t completely necessary to enjoy the game, but it’s interesting nonetheless — it’s there for people who care and in the background for those who don’t.
Knockout City is beautiful and filled with color wherever you look. It has the sort of visual style that’s always refreshing to see, but especially so in a sea of realistic shooters that one can’t seem to escape from. The music and sound effects follow suit, but what’s most impressive is that even when my team has fallen behind, the game still manages to enchant and entertain — a testament to its wonderful presentation.
There are also a few familiar aspects of modern multiplayer games, like rewards from leveling up and a shop to purchase cosmetics. As of right now, it feels like things are balanced well, and I’ve earned a lot Holobux (the in-game currency) just from leveling up and playing. There are plenty of cool things and trinkets in the shop that I’ve already purchased and enjoy having equipped on my in-game character. Unlike other games, the cosmetic system doesn’t feel tacked and you get the sense that genuine care and attention was put into the unlockables and customization options.
This is all backed up by an impressive character customization system, allowing you to change your player icon, outfit, body, face, hairstyle, glasses, gloves, glider, voice, poses, and more. I also want to take a moment to praise Velan Studios for doing something that’s both easy to do and incredibly effective when it comes to being inclusive to trans gamers, and yet it’s something not nearly enough games do. Put simply, there’s no gender option. You can be whoever you are by creating whoever you are. Choose your face, voice, how you’re dressed, and everything in between to create the in-game avatar you want without having to explicitly select a gender. It makes me happy to see and deserves all the praise.
If you’re looking for something that requires some strategy but without a steep learning curve, I’d recommend checking out Knockout City yourself. There are a lot of great multiplayer games on the market, but many of them boast playerbases who have been actively involved since their release, and admittedly, it can be daunting to catch up and master specific skills and level layouts. Don’t get me wrong, Knockout City requires skill to win, but you can learn all the mechanics in less than an hour. It’ll take some time to get a grip on all of its mechanics, but that can be done across a few sessions. Like every competitive game out there, you won’t always win, but I can almost guarantee that you’ll always have fun, and that distinction is incredibly important when faced with an endless ocean of multiplayer experiences.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of Knockout City. A review code was provided to us by Electronic Arts.