Are you ready to DODGEBRAWL? If you don’t want to get pummeled with rubber balls, then you’d better be. Knockout City on Nintendo Switch is a fast-paced, team-based arena dodgeball game with a variety of game modes where you’ll rely on your skill and reflexes to ensure your team tastes sweet victory. Developed by Velan Studios and published by EA, this game is positioning itself to be a popular esport, and while time will tell whether or not it catches on, I can assure you that dodgebrawl battles are a total blast.
Welcome to Knockout City
In Knockout City, you can get together with your own crew or a bunch of randos to brawl it out in 3v3, 1v1, or 4v4 matches that take you from the rooftops to the busy streets to active construction sites. Players hurl, dodge, catch, spin, juke, and even become the ball for their teammates to chuck at opponents. The game features full cross-play and cross-progression between the Nintendo Switch version and all other platforms it appears on, and the plan is to introduce new stages, modes, balls, and more with each new season.
The game has an aesthetic that just oozes attitude. The retro-futuristic design combines elements of the bright neon 1980s with the suave confidence of the 1950s. Everything from the environment to the player characters to the DJ announcer playing tunes on the moon screams cool. Which is impressive when you remember that dodgeball is famous for being played in middle school gym class.
Knockout City carries a lot of polish and heart everywhere, and play is so satisfying when you’re doing well. There’s a real sense of pride when you pull off a cool throw, line up a play with your teammates, and, of course, knock out your opponents. The visual and sound design do a lot to convey the euphoria of jumping around the city and flinging balls at your fellow hooligans. The best part of all is the sound a ball makes when it hits an opponent. PWANG! It’s one of the most satisfying sounds I’ve ever heard in a video game.
Ultimately, the game is all about skill. While there are thousands of unlockable customization options, they only alter your character’s appearance. You’ll have to know the different stages, ball types, and moves to be successful. There are several different modes to try, like Diamond Dash, where teams get points by collecting gems that fall out of KO’d opponents. There’s also a league for players who really want to prove themselves as they climb the ranks.
The match pacing is pretty spot-on, with games lasting around five minutes. Most modes are best two out of three, so you can regroup if you get annihilated in the first match. The various special balls have unique mechanics that are a blast to experiment with. Moon balls reduce gravity for the holder, while sniper balls (shaped like a football) double your lock-on range. They even have their own sound effects while being held, which is cute. The stages can feel a bit haphazard, but you get to know them pretty quickly and each has unique quirks that make it interesting.
Performance on Nintendo Switch
None of this could work, however, without solid network programming. The developers made their own proprietary netcode that runs forward and backward, essentially rewinding the game to previous states to ensure each player experiences a smooth game. Back in February, it wasn’t working so great. It is now. I’m amazed at how smooth the Knockout City connection was on Switch, and there were only one or two minor instances of lag that lasted less than a second on my end. It’s seriously impressive.
Playing Knockout City on Switch does have issues though. The console isn’t as powerful as other machines on the market, so you’ll be given a choice between Quality and Performance modes (pictured below). Quality makes the game look gorgeous, at the expense of a 30 FPS frame rate. Performance runs at a full 60 FPS but looks noticeably worse. I strongly recommend Quality if you’re playing on Switch. However, even when it’s running as smoothly as possible, it is a bit slow for my taste. I want it to be as snappy as Splatoon, but it’s closer to Overwatch.
Finally, there are a lot of actions. In addition to running with the left stick and controlling the camera with the right, every face and shoulder button does something, and sometimes it changes when doing something else. For example, if you’re holding a ball, one of the L buttons passes it, and the other deflects. If you don’t have one, then deflect becomes catch and the pass becomes a verbal request for a ball to be passed. In the heat of the moment, I often confused the two, and I still don’t remember which is which. You also have throwing, curling up into a ball, jumping, taunting, tackling, two different kinds of spins, and dashing. I’m sure it gets easier once you have more experience, but it’s a bit of a barrier to start with.
All in all, Knockout City is an incredibly fun game with impressively smooth network functions. The visuals are some of the coolest I’ve seen in a while, and the customization makes everything feel a little more personal. Despite a few minor hiccups, it’s a wonderful experience that I hope catches on. The developers said that they wanted to capture the spirit of joyful competition and rebellious optimism. They absolutely succeeded.
[Disclosure: The author of this article was sent a press mailer. This did not affect the review in any way.]
A review code for Knockout City was provided by the publisher.