This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Dodgeball Academia is a dodgeball RPG, created by Pocket Trap and published by Humble Games, about the most recent student of Dodgeball Academia, Otto. As he enrolls in school and navigates the trappings of school life, he will form a group of misfit friends and challenge for the widely popular and highly-sought after tournament.
If that premise sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon or an anime you like, that’s because Dodgeball Academia is inspired by those influences and mostly matches them in quality – that’s not a dig by the way, I think Dodgeball Academia is woefully under-appreciated and should be in more people’s radars. It captures the look, the sounds, and the feel of Saturday morning cartoons, and even the writing feels written with that direction. The budget restraints are keeping the presentation from being a full-blown homage, but the expressions, music, sound effects, storylines, and the often-goofy situations are ripped straight out of Cartoon Network shows of yesteryear. I also appreciate the mix of Saturday cartoons with more anime trappings like Otto being an exaggerated version of a typical boy protagonist, but also his teachers are animals and his best friend is a balloon. The music is mostly electric guitar-based with catchy solos and high-octane energy, but the sound effects came straight out of Dragonball or other seminal anime shows of the 90s; in short, Dodgeball Academia does pay homage to other shows but gets the best out of both mediums it is referencing, creating a highly-enjoyable presentation package.
Having said that, Dodgeball Academia is a game that will take most people a dozen hours to get through and the story/writing are just not good enough for that length. Comedy-aside (as that is a very subjective matter and I didn’t like or dislike it), there isn’t enough “meat” for the game to chew a dozen hours on; nothing really happens and, while some characters do get some background established, nothing really changes. It ended up feeling really static like I had my feet tied together – I will eventually get to where I’m going but a lot slower for no good reason. The scenarios and situations are fun though; some episodes are training days with teachers; others are about goofy events that may lead Otto and friends disqualified from the tournament. It’s fun until you realize you are on a treadmill; you are moving, but you won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
That feeling is compounded by some weird decisions that break the overall flow of the game. For example, the game has an episodic nature where each main mission is a new episode and the school is available to explore at your leisure with plot advancing missions to pursue or side-quest and encounters to complete for optional accessories and experience; however, health persists between fights for no reason other than to pat out the time. It is only used effectively in the last episode and that is briefly only; in fact, the whole items and equipment side of the game feels slapped on to follow trends or provide progression that doesn’t really matter. Health regeneration can be done in battle, in the clinic (complete with its own rendition of the Poke-center theme), or through items that characters have preferences on; some are allergic or dislike candy, while others love them. Matching preferences grants bonuses to the item’s effects on the character, but that only comes into consideration when applying the permanent stat increasing items to characters; when it comes to restoring health, there was always the clinic or another way to heal that was free of charge near by and it felt too match like staring in menus for optimizing something that should be more efficient in the first place.
The equipment also suffers from a similar, poor implementation; I never was excited to get a piece of equipment and it never really changed the way I played. There are some neat ideas for what equipment could have been, with items like underwear having high buffs to strength or agility and punishing penalties like 1 health. The game never felt like that was a fun twist to the formula or like it ever needed equipment to begin with; I feel like they were included to make side-quests and encounters more satisfying, but rewarding permanent stat boosts or even consumables for one battle that give buffs would have been much better.
All these issues don’t really matter, because 90% of the time you will be dodging and throwing balls at your opponents and that part is extremely fun. The developers nailed the feeling of throwing a ball at someone so hard that they fly from the impact; visually it is always satisfying to see opponents bounce around after a particularly great throw and hear that exaggerated, anime-inspired sound effect of a dodgeball hitting someone’s face (you know the entire point of playing dodgeball). Controlling a team of three characters, the player will use a variety of moves to defeat the enemy; from standard throws to charged throws and ultimate moves, to defensive maneuvers like dodging or parrying to catch the ball. Each character has a unique and fun thing about them that makes them useful in some capacity; there are all-rounders, healers, offensive and defensive focused characters, all with their own unique spin on their classes. Controlling the game feels great, except for two nitpicks that really bothered me at times. Firstly, after performing an action there seems to be a delay in performing the next action; for example, if I had thrown a ball it would take a second to be able to throw again or focus (which feels a meter for the ultimate and gives passive or active bonuses depending on the character). Moreover, some patterns for the ball flight or feeling for the parrying moves just didn’t feel right; I felt lucky when I succeeded because I felt I could never do it on purpose.
Despite a few issues, Dodgeball Academia is an easy GREAT; it nails the presentation and the gameplay is overwhelmingly positive with a few nitpicks that annoy. Beyond that, everything else would have been an extra that could propel it to being special, but unfortunately, it fails at those features; for an indie game, having a fun 14-hour long campaign, alongside a split-screen mode, with stellar presentation for the price of 25 euros (or as part of the Game Pass library) is pretty great value. It won’t make many people’s top 10 of all time, but it will make it to a few top 10 lists of the year for those who give it a chance.