There are some games that are so blatantly influenced by anime, that you need to google them to make sure they’re not already a show you can watch. It’s not necessarily the visual style that summons up this feeling, but the way the story feels and the characters act, and often the larger-than-life absurdity of the interactions within the game that does it. Dodgeball Academia is very much one of those games, and it’s absolutely incredible.
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Set in a world where dodgeball is everything, this RPG places you in control of Otto, a simple himbo whose only dream is play dodgeball as much as possible. To do so, he’s applied to a prestigious school that specialises in teaching every aspect of the game. Being an anime protagonist means that dear Otto is a bit of a himbo, and also catastrophically late to everything all the time.
You turn up at the academy to catch the last part of the introduction to the history of the place, and it turns out that the whole building is being powered by a spinning dodgeball lodged in a piece of rock that was thrown there a while ago by a hero who ended the great dodgeball wars. See, I told you it was silly.
Well, every student then has to lay their hands on the intensely spinning ball (carefully, as one of the teachers explains) to awaken their own power. What that means in terms of gameplay, is that you’ll get to unlock special moves as you go through the game, and each character has their own array of skills for you to utilise.
The battle system has you basically playing dodgeball matches. Your aim is to hit the opponents enough times to whittle down their HP, and avoid your own players going down. Alongside your normal shot, you can also choose to slow down your throws to trick enemy players. That’s because both you and your opponents have the ability to either counter or catch the thrown balls to avoid damage.
That’s not all; each player also has their own unique charged shots that will imbue the ball with special effects, like fire which will cause damage over time, or lightning which will damage everyone on the opposing team. You can also use focus, but only when there is at least one ball in your opponent’s half of the court. These will do things like heal you and your team, or build up your balltimate move. Your balltimate move is the big anime finishing attack, and it can be anything from dropping lightning strikes on your foes to doing a proper Kamehameha from the Dragon Ball series.
All of those layers are added in over the first few chapters, but they’re also not the end of the complexity offered by battles in Dodgeball Academia. You’ll occasionally have matches where knocked-out players go behind you to attempt to lay down an attack from multiple angles, which is especially tough in some of the later matches. You’ve also got special arenas in some areas with their own challenges, like really long grass in the forest that nearly entirely obscures the ball as it’s thrown.
The system is incredibly easy to learn, but it feels as though the developers know that, because they’re constantly adding in new layers or small tweaks to keep things interesting. It’s not even like they really need to do so either, because just the act of catching a ball before yeeting it at into an opponent and knocking them over is intensely satisfying. As you can probably tell, I’m pretty enamoured with the fights in Dodgeball Academia, but it’s not the only good thing about the game.
The story plays out across eight chapters, each of which is effectively one episode with a main quest, some dodgeball players who’ll attack you on sight, and some incredibly strange side quests. While most of these just involve running around finding items and fighting things, they also tend to have some entertaining writing in them. One, for example, is the tale of a young child who can speak to water fountains and needs you to deliver retribution to three people who’ve littered the waters of one particular fountain.
I’ve not even mentioned the actual character designs yet. While a lot of the characters fit into fairy typical archetypes, the actual look of them is anything but standard. Take one of your first friends at the academy, Balloony. Now, you might think it would be too on the nose to name someone Ballooney and then make their defining feature a balloon for a head, but you’d be wrong, and also kind of grumpy. Balloony is a bit nervous around a lot of things, but they’re especially scared of planets with thorns, because they don’t want to deflate. I don’t know if this would kill them off, and I don’t want to know, because that seems a little too messed up for this rather wholesome game.
As I’m sure you can tell, I’m besotted with Dodgeball Academia. It’s about eight hours long, so overfilled with character and style that it’s impossible to play it without smiling, and the core gameplay in the battles is extraordinarily good fun. Everything about this game is a joy to interact with, and it’s filled with little nods and references that make it feel custom-designed for long-time gaming and anime fans. It’s just good fun, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Dodgeball Academia launches on August 5 for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Steam and Xbox One. We reviewed the PC version.
Dodgeball Academia is some of the purest fun you can have. The quirky visual style meshes perfectly with the absurd action and will always result in a huge smile on your face. If you’re looking for something to just brighten your day, and you also happen to be into dodgeball, then this may well be the perfect game for you.
- Adorable art style
- Overly absurd anime story
- Great combat
- Probably too anime for some people
- Some fights feel a little unfair