(Dodgeball Academia is available for Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.)
Growing up, school constantly felt like a battleground. Many mornings were spent in preparation for the numerous attacks that were certain to catch me off-guard during my day. From the bathrooms with their soldiers of swirlies, to the walks home full of twists and turns in a labyrinthine neighborhood, nowhere was safe. On the flipside, there also wasn’t really any place that felt more dangerous either. Unless you found yourself on the dodgeball court.
That wasn’t a battleground, it was a fucking warzone.
Now imagine how I reacted upon learning that there was a game all about the warm and fuzzy feeling that only a rubber ball to the face could provide. Enter: Dodgeball Academia!
Dodgeball Academia is what you get when you blend a sports game with the look of Gravity Falls, the “trainer” systems from Pokemon, the upgrades and customization of role-playing games, and the story-telling of a Saturday morning cartoon. Visually, it has an easily identifiable style, which is something that modern games are sorely lacking. The character designs especially pop against the 3D rendered background, while the vibrant and complimenting colors help to further bring everything together. These are characters and settings that I could easily see finding a home on a children’s cartoon network like…Cartoon Network.
So all is well and good in the land of initial appearances, but I think a lot of people know that first impressions aren’t always telling of what’s going on on a deeper level. Oftentimes it takes a moment or two for us to begin to understand a motive before we really get down to judgement. This reigns true, even in the world of video games. Case in point: once I began to actually play Dodgeball Academia, I realized that looks truly aren’t everything. The core content wasn’t something I could see myself staying with in the future.
The biggest reason for this was due to Dodgeball Academia’s story. I don’t personally think the plot of the game is bad, but I do think it was a story that didn’t quite mesh with me. The length of the story would wear on me from time to time, which led to many speed reads through the numerous lines of dialogue. The writing isn’t poorly done, but it is juvenile. You can tell that this story catered more toward fans of the shows that it pulled visual inspiration from, which admittedly let me down.
I did enjoy how Dodgeball Academia presented it’s story though. The narrative is portrayed in an episodic manner, with each chapter having its own plot while also carrying along the game’s main story. Each episode is only a couple of hours in length too, so being able to indulge in the dodgebally goodness in bite sized chunks was a breeze. There’s plenty of variety and creativity within these stories, which helps to prevent Dodgeball Academia from feeling too samey in it’s formula. I will say though that I do wish there was more time to breathe and explore between story beats. The game is fairly linear and doesn’t offer a huge variety of activities outside of some side quests and the occasional spot to grind some levels.
Speaking of levels, let’s take a moment to discuss the core gameplay here. I think Dodgeball Academia’s gameplay systems were my favorite thing about this experience (outside of taking in the visuals, of course). Once you spend a moment with the game, it’s easy to tell that Dodgeball Academia was built around the idea of being an homage to not just a PE class pastime, but to role-playing games as well. There are a plethora of systems here that are pulled from many classic RPGs which all come together to work in beautiful harmony. There’s your standard experience based leveling systems, items and gear to purchase, use and equip, enemies to run into if you’re looking to grind the day away, and more. To be honest, the core gameplay is a large reason why I nearly 100% completed Dodgeball Academia.
The game is also party based, with a large cast of characters that you can control through your journey. This helps with gameplay variety, by allowing you to access a plethora of differing playstyles. Granted they don’t differ in the way something like builds in Diablo do, but they still vary enough to offer the player a semblance of choice.
Everyone has super cool anime powers given to them by the power of a magical dodgeball as well, which further helps diversify the roster. For example, one character may harness the power of electricity which allows them to stun more opponents, while another may harness the power of fire, leading to many a crispy kiddo. I thoroughly enjoyed uncovering every character’s special power, from those that I played as, to those who you merely fight against on the court. It helped bring another level of personality to a game already bursting at the seams with charisma and allure.
Which I wish was the same for the music in Dodgeball Academia. Sadly, that’s not really the case based on my experience. While the game doesn’t have a particularly bad soundtrack, I can’t deny that it can get a bit grating on the ears after some time. In my opinion, the problem stems from a lack of variety in the music. Individually, these tracks almost all fit well with the overall look and feel of Dodgeball Academia. The issue lies within how often these tracks are used, and how rarely I was given a reprieve from them. The main hub of the game is accompanied by this tune where you have a guitar just going absolutely crazy in the background with it’s “wah-wahs” and “wee-woos”. I swear that song single-handedly led to me speeding through the game at a faster rate, which kinda saddened me. I was really looking forward to more variety in this one.
Look, Dodgeball Academia isn’t a perfect game. That’s completely fine, seeing as perfect video games don’t exist. But it is a well put together gaming experience that knows it’s influences and wears them proudly on it’s sleeve. There may not have been as much here to enjoy as initial impressions initially led me to believe, but not every game will fit every person. And again, I’ll reiterate this for the upteenth time: Dodgeball Academia isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s a really good game. A really good game for a select few: younger gamers and sports fans mostly.
Regardless of which demographic Dodgeball Academia best suits, I don’t at all regret my time with the game. It was a nice throwback to the days of old, where every day meant putting my life on the painted white line in gym class. Where my classmates and I became not only friends, but comrades in a war against enemies that threatened the composition of all of our faces. It was a time I will forever be nostalgic for, and at the end of the day, I think I actually owe it to Dodgeball Academia for reigniting my appreciation for those times. For that reason alone, I’d say that the game is well worth your time, even if it doesn’t end up being your next favorite game.