Knockout The Competition
You’d be forgiven if you think Electronic Arts can’t decide what they want Knockout City to be. Originally announced to start with a free week as a sort of trial, that quickly evolved into staying free until you reach level 25. Was this planned from the start? It’s hard to know, but either way, that says interesting things about EA’s strategy for the title. It’s a real shame because the actual game they’re pushing has such a strong identity.
Echoes of a ton of other games live in Knockout City. There are bits and pieces of Splatoon, dodgeball, even fighting games. At its core, this is a 3 vs. 3 arena battler. You and your team challenge another team to a game of extreme dodgeball. The first team to get ten knockouts, each requiring two hits, wins.
Unlike a traditional shooter, your sense of aim isn’t going to make a big difference. Balls lock on to your opponents; you only have to aim in the general direction of your target. This makes Knockout City a breeze to pick up, but there’s a surprising amount of strategy here.
For anyone who hasn’t played dodgeball in gym growing up, you eliminate opponents by hitting them. They can, however, catch the ball when you throw it at them. Unlike what you may have played in gym, catching the ball doesn’t eliminate the thrower. It does, however, provide you a strategic advantage. You now have a weapon, and they’re unarmed.
There are many ways to strike. When choosing how to throw your ball, you have a variety of options. You can just throw it directly, which is easy, but also fairly easy to catch. You can put a curve on the ball, which is both fun to see and can even allow you to throw around obstacles and corners. This means even when opponents take cover, they aren’t fully safe. A lob shot can be useful as well, and you can even throw the ball slow, which can throw the timing for catching the ball off.
Variety Keeps Things Fresh
You even have a variety of balls littered around the game’s many maps. A bomb ball will blow up upon impact and can damage multiple opponents. A sniper ball can be thrown further and is extra fast. A multi-ball allows for rapid-fire throwing and might be my favorite. You and your teammates can even turn yourselves into balls at any time if you find yourselves unarmed. If your team is trapped and your opponents are armed, this can be a great way out of it. It’s not without risk, though. If your opponents catch you as a ball, you can become a weapon against your own team. The other team can also just throw you off the game’s maps for an easy kill.
Each map has its own personality as well. While some are stronger than others, with the rotating Galaxy Burger being a highlight, all five of the included maps are well-formed and provide unique strategic opportunities. After repeated play, however, they do eventually get a little stale. There’s enough for now, but if Knockout City is going to stay fresh, more will be needed.
You Can Dodge A Ball Together
Knockout City is purely an online title. The only thing to do on your own is play through the game’s brief tutorial. When you jump online, though, you have a variety of modes. There’s a ranked mode that lets you try to climb the game’s ladder. Or you can play more casual matches, either private with just friends or in public rooms. The standard 3 vs. 3 mode is definitely the game’s strongest. There’s also currently a 4 vs. 4 mode where there are no balls, and your only option is to use your teammates as balls. This mode is full of strategic choices which elevate it. Another mode has each player drop gems when they’re hit. Gathering those gems is how you win. There’s even a free for all mode, though it’s perhaps the least successful. Most of the game’s strategy goes out the window there.
These modes look set to rotate regularly, providing new ways to play and letting players anticipate the return of their favorites. This, along with the game’s visual style, feel right out of Splatoon. Everything in Knockout City is pastel-colored and super vibrant. The look of the characters doesn’t have the charm of Splatoon, but there’s a ton of options to customize them. There’s also a rotating store with new visual options available daily. However, you’ll only be able to buy a rare few of these unless you drop some actual money. The soundtrack is fine, though not exceptional. I do, however, love the sound when the ball hits an enemy. It has a super satisfying feel which is incredibly nostalgic. It made me feel like I was back in a gym loading up a ball.
With style to spare and refined gameplay, Knockout City knows exactly what game it is. That happens to be an excellent, highly addictive, online slugfest. It’s excellent to pick up and play for a short burst, and its strategy can hold your attention for longer sessions. My biggest hesitation with it is how unsure EA seems about what they want it to be. Will they continue expanding its free play period to make it fully free to play? Will they continue adding new modes, maps, and other options to keep the gameplay fresh? It’s hard to say. I can, however, say that with hours of play available even under the current free model, this is a city worth visiting.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Electronic Arts; Developer: Velan Studios, Inc; Players: 1 (up to 8 online); Released: May 21st, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Knockout City.