I used to love playing dodgeball as a kid. There’s the thrill as you lobbed your ball at an unsuspecting teenager, the danger as your attack left you vulnerable to a reprisal from the opposing team, the sense of dread as the teen effortlessly caught the ball and flung it back with unprecedented force into your delicate gonads. This sort of risk and reward mechanic should have made for a compelling video game, but what makes dodgeball so great has not made it across the virtual gap to Disco Dodgeball Remix.
The basic structure of the game takes on the form of a team elimination FPS. Two squads take part in a dodgeball-based battle over a variety of small and tight enclosed arenas, with both sets of players seeking out balls to grab – oo-er! – and use as a weapon.
Throwing balls has the formidable power of an instant kill, even if the victim is only grazed by it, but once thrown at an opponent, you’re left unprotected until you find a replacement or snatch on our of the air. In an usual twist, catching an incoming ball results in the death of the flinger. Power ups can be found which will enhance your abilities and they are all uniformly generic in their nature, excluding the boomerang ball which – as the name suggests – returns to your hands in a satisfyingly Thor-like manner.
Despite the bright colours and flashing lights, this is an ugly and uninspiring game. Each arena, whilst having differing layouts, is visually and thematically indistinguishable from its fellows. Indeed, the glitter ball aesthetic is borderline nauseating. Trying not to see your lunch again when playing split-screen multiplayer is such a challenge that there really should be a trophy for achieving it. The constant pulsing neon lights that make up the levels themselves really do take a toll on both your eyes and mind. I’m thankful that most games don’t look like this, as the effect of so much flashing made me want to have a sit down in a dark room.
The visuals aren’t helped at all by the appalling character design, which is amongst the worst I’ve encountered. The robotic avatars can be customised, but while you can have all the ridiculous moustaches, eye and headwear you could desire, the main body and wheel remains the dame. It speaks volumes that each character has the player’s name floating above their head; without it, there would be a struggle to tell anyone apart.
Matters are not helped by the ill-considered controls. Both jump and attack require charging by holding down the controller’s face buttons, which leads to a player’s fingers and thumbs being spread all over a gamepad whilst trying to achieve anything remotely skilful. Not only that, but due to the robot’s wheel constantly rolling forwards and backwards you’re required to be constantly manipulating the left thumb stick. You can hit the brakes by pressing the circle button, but you’d have to be a ‘finger yoga’ expert to manage this whilst charging your jump and throw. It makes a simple game, designed to appeal to all ages, unbearably inaccessible.
There’s also so little to the gameplay, amounting to little more than find ball, throw, repeat. The complex controls were perhaps included to deepen the experience, yet they prove an unnecessary hindrance to the games’ pick up and play intentions.
There are, as you would expect, a huge amount of options to customise your game. Rules, goals, time limits and bot behaviour can all be tinkered with, but when the core gameplay loop is so uninspiring this provides little remedy to the games’ issues. Thanks to Zen Studios multiplayer experience, there is both a strong lobby system in place and stable online code. An experience points system, mimicking those found in other online shooters, provides the opportunity for the player to level up their character with a host of abilities. Whilst these are all nice touches, they do little to improve the game.
A dance soundtrack from a host of independent talents provides the background to all the dodgeball action, which, depending on your musical tastes, is either excruciating or brilliant. Or excruciatingly brilliant. Finally, the voiceover guy clearly loves monster trucks and, as he comments on kills, streaks and trick-shots with infectious enthusiasm, he almost manages to make the gameplay exciting.
In the competitive world of online multiplayer, a game must be special to stand out from the crowd. Disco Dodgeball Remix stands out for all the wrong reasons. It proves itself to be a nice idea stretched to breaking point and beyond. I played it, so you don’t have to.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4