It’s been fifteen long years since Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story put dodgeball firmly in the Hollywood spotlight, a million miles away from bully-friendly PE sessions you might have had at school. There, any excuse to throw something at another child without fear of repercussion was met with adulation by school ’mates’ like Big Brian and Peter P who’d hit puberty at eight. In those intervening years PE has become a repressed memory and we can happily go to a gym and lift weights on our own while not making eye contact with anyone, and Dodgeball has once again disappeared into the sweaty sports halls of the past.
No more though, as Final Boss Games and publisher Playstack have seen an opportunity to bring back the sport of sadistic champions just as we were starting to forget all about it. It’s perhaps not quite as you, or any of us, remember though, as Super Dodgeball Beats sees you taking to the streets, beating down aliens, cats and gentrified dinosaurs while playing Dodgeball in time with music. That’s right, this is Dodgeball by way of rhythm action, and it is… well, slightly less exciting than that sounds.
Your team of four takes to the field of play and face off against your opponent – so far, so dodgeball – but then the music starts. These are the kind of funky, electronic chirps that have been spewing out of Japanese arcades for the past twenty years, and Super Dodgeball Beats asks you to press buttons in time with the them as you play.
Your four players are aligned in the same formation as the four face buttons on a controller, with each character tied to the corresponding button. Rings close in on the player, indicating that a beat is coming, and you simply have to press the right button at the right time to hit a perfect beat. It’ll handily tell you if you’re early, late, or bang on the money every time you hit one, and you’ll soon have a grasp on the game’s sense of timing.
As you make or miss beats, or your opponent does, the dodgeball icon in the bar at the top of the screen moves backwards and forwards, showing who’s currently in control of the game. If the song ends and the dodgeball is in your end of the bar then you win. There’s a little more to sink your teeth into other than that though.
There are different types of beats, so along with your straightforward taps there’s also directional beats, where you have to move the left analog stick in the right direction at the right time, releasing at just the right moment to appease the game’s inner workings. Alongside them there’s also long beats, where you have to hold the correct button down while a gauge fills up, only letting it go once it’s full up.
Flight School have also included a range of power-ups to harry your opponent with along the way. Hitting beats charges your power-up gauge, and once filled you can send your opponent something special, like doughnuts that cover up the beat timing rings, a giant floating head that bounces round their side of the screen, or maybe you can just turns them to stone. A little like Mario Kart’s squid ink, they’re the type of thing that are designed to put you off, but if you hold your nerve you can probably look past them.
The problem with Super Dodgeball Beats is that’s all there really is to it. Each opponent has their own track, each of which has unique patterns to hit, and as you progress through to the tougher stages of the campaign – which is basically just a series of league tables with a playoff at the end of the season – they become progressively more complicated. You can unlock new mascots and new power-ups as you advance, but they don’t do much to change the way you play the game, which is ultimately just tapping away in time with some rings while the dodgeball players stand in the same place for three minutes.
Of course, rhythm-action games aren’t really known for their gameplay variety, but where some will keep you coming back time and time again to improve a run, I soon tired of what Super Dodgeball Beats has to offer. Perhaps some of the problem lies in the fact there’s no drive to return to a stage once you’ve passed it, and while there are gradings awarded for performance, it’s not pushed as a means to promote return play.
Perhaps the biggest crime though is that the music isn’t exciting enough. Sure, it’s funky and distinctly cheerful, but it’s just not characterful enough, and later on I still found myself relying on the visual cues for the beats rather than the aural ones. The game’s presentation at least is fantastic, with bright, manga-styled visuals and cool-looking characters, but it’s let down by the less-than-inspiring action.