Okay, I admit it. I was wrong about Knockout City. Once the game was initially revealed throughout a Nintendo Direct presentation captured, it didn’t create a great first impression. I immediately wrote them back as a multiplayer game that seemed doomed to die a couple of months after launch. Comparisons were made to Rocket Arena, another EA Original that came and went in the blink of the eye. Since I’ve actually had time to visit hands-on with the game, however, I’m actually really surprised with just how much I enjoyed it. I’m not sure if Knockout City will stick around, but I sure hope it does.
Knockout City is a team-based game centered around dodgeball, or “dodgebrawl” as developer Velan Studios calls it. If you’ve played dodgeball before, you already know the basics here. Hit another team with balls and don’t get hit yourself. The first team to achieve a certain quantity of eliminations wins. There are twists for this formula in Knockout City like special balls and different game modes, as well as the greater degree, it’s just dodgeball. Now, game titles are no stranger to sports. From table tennis to car soccer has had it is time in the spotlight, but I walked from Knockout City with one question: why hasn’t there been a big dodgeball game so far? I am talking about no disrespect to the 2002 classic Monsters, Inc. Scream Arena, but there hasn’t been a game title that capitalizes around the pleasure of throwing things at other people in the way Knockout City does. The idea is simple, and Knockout City wonderfully executes the concept.
There are two main actions in Knockout City: throwing and catching. You can lightly toss a ball at another player, but it’s tougher for them to catch it if you charge your throw before letting it go. Catching requires precise timing, and there’s a punishable cooldown around the catch so you can’t just spam it. Throwing and catching a ball sounds simple in writing, but in practice, it’s super fun. You can get trapped in really intense games of catch against an opposing player, tossing the ball backwards and forwards because the catching window shrinks tighter and tighter. These little duels would be the absolute highlight of Knockout City, and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when you finally have the ability to knock out somebody that keeps catching what you throw their way.
Timing isn’t everything. It’s pretty simple to detect the correct timing to catch an incoming ball after a couple of hours of play. Understanding how to catch is simply the foundation receiving targeted, however. Faking out your opponent, mixing up your strategies, and overwhelming enemies with your teammates are the secrets of success in Knockout City, and this is where the game really begins to shine. You can perform various kinds of throws and only lob or curve the ball, and once you receive adequate, you can make it seem like you’re going to throw a certain kind of way after which choose another strategy once you bait your opponent’s catch. You may also quickly pass the ball between teammates to confuse your enemies, and you may even get your allies and throw them as a special aerial explosive ball. What begins as a simple bet on dodgeball evolves right into a field of mind games that need lightning-quick reactions to avoid. The skill ceiling is surprisingly high.
There are some maps, modes, and special balls thrown in to the mix to help keep things interesting. The maps supply the most variety, and every of the five available at launch is excellent. Rooftop Rumble takes place on two rooftops connected by a lone bridge, providing plenty of possibilities to knock opponents from the fringe of the map for free points, while Jukebox Junction features trains that periodically tell you the map. The gimmicks of each locale alter the game in interesting ways, especially when combined with certain special balls. Special balls will appear randomly each match, and they all have unique effects along with dealing damage. The cage ball, for instance, traps enemies in ball form long enough for you to get them and throw them, which is perfect for tossing them from the buildings in Rooftop Rumble. While the map rotation and special ball lineup spice some misconception for that first couple of hours, you’ll quickly see everything the game has to offer after a short play session.
Knockout City is really a blast for the first few hours, but repetition begins to occur following a certain point. There just isn’t much incentive to keep playing once the fun has worn off. You will find cosmetics to earn and unlock, but none seem to be very interesting. The game’s art style and tone are pretty lame, and the cosmetic merchandise is equally dull. It feels like the same cartoony style we’ve seen several times before, also it doesn’t work any better in Knockout City. Things could always improve on the progression side of things after a couple of post-launch updates, but right now, there just aren’t that many compelling rewards to operate toward. You will find 17 cosmetic categories though, there are bound to attend least some things you’ll like for your character. There’s also cross-platform progression, which is always a nice touch.
Knockout City’s biggest weakness is that it’s frontloaded with fun. The first evening using the game will likely be considered a great time, but you’ll get diminishing returns every time you come back to play unless you’re really committed to grinding the ranked League Play ladder. It is affected with the same problems that Fall Guys did last year. Without a steady stream of new maps, special balls, and other new mechanics, the game will become stale and players will move onto other activities. Velan Studios have a solid roadmap organized for Knockout City though, therefore the game at least includes a fighting chance when it comes to maintaining a playerbase. It may also help that the game can be obtained on Xbox Game Pass featuring a free trial during the launch period, each of which can help have it in to the hands of more people.
Overall, Knockout City is a superb time. I was incredibly surprised at how much I enjoyed the dodgeball gameplay, especially after the poor first impression the game made with its reveal trailer and early marketing. I don’t think her longevity to maintain a high player count, especially with how weak the majority of the cosmetics and rewards are at launch and how repetitive the sport gets after a couple of hours, but I really do hope the game sticks around not less than a couple of months. Knockout City is definitely an absolute riot, especially with friends.