As I was playing through the Knockout City open beta, one thought kept crossing through my head – why has no one made a dodgeball game before? Seriously, it’s a concept that has been begging to be gameified, and yet I can’t think of a single other game that has tried. That is absolutely to Knockout City’s credit, as even in the five or six hours I put into the beta, I found it a ton of fun and can’t wait to get properly stuck in.
My first impressions of Knockout City were admittedly pretty mixed. The debut trailer for the game was tonally off and took too much time making jokes and not showing enough of the game’s mechanics. I’m happy to say that my impressions changed after actually playing the beta.
Starting off with the visuals and overall presentation, the look of the characters and environment, combined with the presence of a DJ, meant that I was massively reminded of PS2-era titles like SSX Tricky. The environments are a little bland, and the customisation options are a little weak currently, but the overall style is nice enough. You cannot deny the sound design of a dodgeball smacking your opponents at full force though.
Importantly, I found that Knockout City actually ran really well on the Nintendo Switch. I rarely had any connection issues, and although the game runs at a lower frame rate than the other consoles, it still manages a consistent 30 frames-per-second. It helps that both the beta and full game have cross-play and progression, which means I could hop out of the Switch version and go on the PS5 with ease.
Knockout City starts you off in a little tutorial area that teaches you the basics of the game. The main gameplay loop has you running around a map collecting dodgeballs, chucking them at your opponents and catching any that come your way.
That may sound simple, but it takes some getting used to. You really need to get the catching timing right, and players can adjust the speed at which they throw their dodgeball by either spinning or faking a shot. You can do the same to them, which leads to a lot of close call moments as players duck, dive and knock dodgeballs out of the hands of one another.
It helps that the movement feels really good. You can flip, twirl and roll around the map like an acrobat, and charging up a massive shot always feels really satisfying. Easily the best thing about Knockout City is learning the tricks to the gameplay mechanics, such as figuring out that you can actually roll up into a ball and be chucked by your teammates, or figuring out the exact use of each type of dodgeball.
The modes included in this beta are a standard 3v3 match, a 1v1 match that has the arena slowly closing in and a diamond rush mode. I didn’t get to play the diamond rush mode, but the other two were a lot of fun. The 1v1 mode feels like the best showcase of the game mechanics, as it often ends with players hanging around the last remaining dodgeball and only just claiming victory.
Although I really enjoyed my time with Knockout City, I do think there are a few things that need adjusting. For starters, I think there need to be at least one or two more spawning points for dodgeballs, as I spent a bit too much time running around the map looking for them. I also think that the rate at which players level up needs to be increased somewhat, as progression feels a little slow at the moment.
The main concern I have with Knockout City going forward is its pricing model. No matter how much fun I had with the game, I still think it would be better suited as a free-to-play game, with some optional microtransactions to keep invested players coming back. The full game actually is going to have microtransactions on offer for cosmetics, which feels a bit off considering there’s an upfront fee to get into the game.
After playing the beta for five hours or so, I was starting to get a little bit bored of what was on offer. Again, this is just a beta to test out the mechanics, but I have to hope that the full game is going to have more maps, more customisation options and more balls to throw around to keep things fresh.
If Knockout City can justify its pricing and continue to deliver on its mechanics, I can definitely see myself sinking a lot of time into it. This is a title that is going to rely on a consistent player base to thrive, so I really hope that enough people give it a chance, because there really is a competitive gem hiding underneath the cartoony presentation.