Stikbold! might have an unusual sounding name, but determining what the game is about is as simple as translating this from Danish to English. Coming out at the start of April, this is a quirky take on dodgeball, that strips out all of the faux seriousness of something like the DodgeBall film and boils it down to the basics of hitting people with balls.
With that in mind, it even strips out all of the rules from the real world game. This is a free for all between two teams in a circular arena, with players scrabbling and diving to grab the ball, followed either by trying to get a throw away and anticipating the target’s moves, or trying to keep on moving and use any obstacles to block the ball. Take one hit and stars spin around your head to show you’re in danger of being knocked out with another knock. Knock the other team out to win the round.
It’s a fast and fluid game, with the ball flying back and forth regularly. All you really need are the two analogue sticks for movement and aiming, and the shoulder buttons or triggers for diving and shooting. There’s little nuances, like being able to pass the ball between players, diving into a thrown ball at just the right time to catch it, or just being able to rough up and steal the ball off the other team if you can get close enough. There’s a few tricks to learn, certainly, but it’s easy to just pick up and get playing.
What keeps things fresh and exciting is that the arenas are all little hubs of activity, which is shown off as soon as you get out of the tutorial and into the story. Björn and Jerome are training for that night’s grand final to try and reclaim the title, but when the other team walks in, it’s clear why they won last time around: Björn is head over heels in love with Heidi Starbrow. Then, all of a sudden, she’s kidnapped by the Devil – bet you didn’t see that one coming – and Björn and Jerome head off to rescue their rivals, much to their coach’s chagrin.
Alongside the game’s cute and boxy art style, it’s a pleasantly silly little story that can be played through solo with an AI partner, or with a real live human being taking control of Jerome alongside you. The first stop is the nearby park, where you try to interrogate some hippies stealing honey, within the game’s gibberish blend of Dutch and English. Of course, they have nothing to do with the kidnapping, but it all breaks out into an impromptu dodgeball contest before you can find that out.
Sounds simple enough, but it gets a bit trickier when you’re dodging around park benches, when beehives drop into the arena and can be thrown to unleash a swarm of bees in one part of the level, or simply when a camper van careens around the outside of the area. The boss fight that follows, with you duking it out with an increasingly erratic camper van is just as, if not even more manic. And things only get sillier and more over the top from there, with crabs scuttling around and waves crashing onto the beach, whales slapping down onto an offshore platform, fires, wind and more across the five arenas.
Those all come into play when playing the game’s local multiplayer, which supports up to four human players and two AI, split however you want in up to three teams, or simply as a free for all. Of course, it’s never fun to be knocked out early on and sit on the sidelines, so the game gives those no longer playing control over some of the environmental events. There’s every chance that you can exact a little revenge or use this to gang up on someone who’s doing just a little bit too well for your liking.
Stikbold has vibrantly summery graphics that gel well with the easy to pick up gameplay, the handful of arenas and even the nonsensical environmental events, but boil it down, and it’s just a good bit of fun.