Knockout City isn’t the dodgeball from your childhood. It’s an intense team-based multiplayer take on the grade school sport that combines simple, easy to pick up controls, with deceptively complex tactics and strategies that may be surprising coming from a game featuring this type of Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic. Its crisp, satisfying gameplay and multiplayer duels deliver all of the highs of gym class sports without the smelly uniforms or the anxiety of being picked last.
I’ve found the art style to be an acquired taste. The Bratz doll look of the characters was off-putting at first, but taken with the colorful cityscapes, the genre-defying energy of the soundtrack, and eclectic customization options, Knockout City has a charm that’s hard to deny. I love the distinctive sound each of the different balls makes when they collide with targets, particularly that hollow and familiar “bonk” of the standard red rubber variety.
The base rules of this sport are simple: your team of three or four has to eliminate the opposing team by clobbering them with balls that spawn across the maps. Players must be hit twice to be knocked out, and the first team to 10 knockouts wins.
When a ball is in your hand, you’re almost like a baseball pitcher in that there’s a shot selection aspect to every throw you make as you attempt to break your opponent’s defense, which is a simple yet powerful catch. The basic throw can be charged to a faster variation, you can throw a slow lob that can change the opponent’s timing just enough to throw them off, or you can throw wide curve balls to reach around obstacles and exploit enemy blind spots. Winning a duel is much more about that choice than it is about precision – since all aim is auto-targeted, having great on-the-run aim like in a traditional third-person shooter is a non-factor. Instead, every interaction is a matter of having better reflexes and more devious tactics in focused, tennis-like volley exchanges.
Among the strangest and most effective moves is ignoring balls completely, and instead turning yourself into one for your teammates to throw. When you “ball up” you can be tossed to eliminate opponents like normal, or supercharged to become a sort of living, guided mortar shell. These UItimate Throws cause a devastating explosion on impact, knocking out anyone caught in the blast instantly. Using players as balls is risky, though. You can be caught like any other ball and thrown back against your team, or worse, thrown off the stage for an instant knockout. And of course, should you miss with a big Ultimate Throw, you are super exposed to counter attack.
Some of the more advanced techniques, like passes that charge the ball to max speed faster or dashes that double as powerful tackles that deflect throws and disarm opponents, provide great depth that high-skill players are already starting to make use of. I’m just scratching the surface of that after a few dozen games, never going too long without using a trick shot or an Ultimate Throw to gain an advantage in a close game. Not only do all of these little maneuvers feel easy and accessible, but they all feel necessary for true dodgebrawl mastery.
Most of the stages do a great job at throwing unique environmental wrinkles into the standard play. I quickly found a favorite stage in Galaxy Burger, which features a circular spinning restaurant that begs you to make wild trick throws inside it. The Roundabout adds cars to the mix, forcing you to stay on the move at all times or get bounced around by rush hour traffic. Of course, not every gimmick becomes something worth playing around, like the transporting tubes in Back Alley Brawl, but they don’t detract from the action either.
Knockout City Screenshots
The special balls that spawn during games have a far more dramatic impact on gameflow from match to match. Sniper balls turn games into more long-range affairs, as players can hang back and launch high speed throws from afar. Multi-balls give you three throws instead of one, turning players into rapid-fire ballers for a limited time. I love that these options are so clearly worth playing around that they can change the pace of a game by their mere presence. For instance, when I hear the ticking of a Bomb Ball, I’m far less likely to stick close to teammates just in case they become ground zero for a sudden explosion.
Knockout City’s matchmaking is a bit wonky, though. Especially in unranked Street Play, where I’ve regularly joined games mid match only to find that my whole team has already gone idle, leaving me alone to get walloped by the enemy. Pickup games are at the mercy of the random people you’re playing with, which may not give you a fair shot.
Should you need a break from the standard gameplay, Knockout City offers rotating game modes that get shuffled every week that put interesting spins on the rules. One added a sort of gold rush system where every hit causes enemies to drop diamonds that you collect to score instead of simply chasing knockouts. My favorite mode removed all the balls completely, forcing players to throw their teammates at each other instead. Ultimately, these modes are fun distractions but never more alluring than the standard three-versus-three matches for very long.