If you’re a fan of unique competitive experiences like Splatoon or Rocket League, or if you enjoy hurling mildly painful projectiles at your friends, then you’ve got quite the treat coming down the pipe very soon. Developer Velan Studios, which recently worked on Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, along with publisher Electronic Arts (EA) has announced its foray into the genre with Knockout City, a fast-paced game full of neon lights, loud brass band music, and an X-treme sport known as DodgeBRAWL.
Set in a retro-futuristic world, Knockout City is all about ruling the streets with your dodgeball skills. Players hurl, catch, dodge, juke, and even become dodgeballs. It will feature a bunch of different modes, such as Team KO, a 3v3 match where the first team to 10 knockouts wins, and Ball-Up Brawl, in which there are no balls and players need to fling their teammates at their opponents. There’s also a randomized special ball in every match, like the Moon Ball that reduces gravity for the holder and the Cage Ball that traps an opponent in a tiny round prison. It’s got tons of customization options, official League Play, and about as much attitude as Sonic the Hedgehog did in the ’90s. Did I mention you can roll up into a ball?
The road to Knockout City
EA and Velan Studios shared some info about the game before letting us dive into a hands-on demo. First and foremost, they wanted to make a game that was all about style and skill. Knockout City combines the two in fun and unexpected ways. Doing tricks can add twists to your throws, and performing perfect catches powers the ball up. Customizing your character doesn’t give them any new abilities, but it helps them feel like your own avatar. The loud horns and rapid rhythm of the music get everyone’s blood pumping when it’s time to fling balls at each other.
Knockout City’s visual design stuck out to me especially. It’s a mash-up of bright neon aesthetics from the 1980s and the smooth classic cool of the 1950s. My character, a glowing cyberpunk badass, rolled into every match on a Chrysler Imperial hovercar alongside bikers, greasers, hackers, and other assorted oddballs. It’s loud and in your face, but also familiar and fun. The team didn’t want it to look or feel like your middle school gym class. Everything, from the details around the city to the look of the balls, bleeds personality. They wanted to capture the spirit of joyful competition and rebellious optimism.
The developers also talked about how difficult it was to realize online multiplayer dodgeball. As it turns out, having multiple balls in the arena (some of which might also be players) really messes with a physics engine. They had to build their own coding language to implement netcode that would be robust enough for a game like this. They also wanted a game where skill was all-important, and there are no class-based characters like in Team Fortress. The more you play, the better you’ll get.
Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge
Playing Knockout City is a ton of fun. I played many matches in each of the three available modes and was impressed by how much the experience reminded me of Splatoon. Matches are fast — the five-minute time limit was never even a factor. Getting a hit on an opponent feels great, and making a perfect catch is just as satisfying. The music, sounds, and motion all feel wonderful.
Admittedly, there were points in the demo where it was fairly unstable, but that’s forgivable at this stage. Also, the game modes were incredibly similar, which was a little disappointing. Ball-Up Brawl was a little novel compared to Diamond Dash and Team KO, but it was ultimately the same experience. Hopefully the final release will offer greater stability and more variety. Still, I can’t wait to play more and get better.
Customization is likewise a blast. What it lacks in body types, it more than makes up for in the sheer amount of things you can personalize. You’ve got expressions, winner poses, loser poses, holographic crew logos, and even a little fireworks display that a player you KO will see over their incapacitated body before they respawn. There are a ton of colors for every option, and an excellent amount of the clothing and hairstyles glow.
The team at Velan will be working on Knockout City post-launch, introducing new seasons every nine weeks and new features as the game goes on. There are plans to work with the community to make sure the fans are on board with their choices, especially when it comes to the competitive side of things. Everyone involved in the development apparently hates the concept of loot boxes and will be shunning them entirely. Instead, players can get in-game currency by winning matches to buy stuff for their characters, all of which is purely cosmetic. There will be an option to buy holo-bucks with real bucks, but it will never be a necessity.
Catch it or you’re out
I loved dodgeball as a kid. I’ve long been a fan of sports where the goal was specifically to strike another human being, so it was right up my alley. It came as a surprise to me that there wasn’t a whole lot of games featuring the hallowed childhood torture activity, but Knockout City is sure to scratch that itch.
Knockout City drops on May 21 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Origin, Steam, and next-gen consoles via backwards compatibility. It will feature full cross-play and cross-progression. The game will be free at launch, with the option to buy it later for $19.99. There will be a closed beta on PC taking place Feb. 20-21. Stay tuned for details on how to enter.