Dodgeball Academia resurrects the spirit of the classic Super Dodge Ball series as a sports action-RPG featuring a charming cartoon aesthetic.
It’s been nearly 35 years since the first incarnation of the Super Dodge Ball series, a semi-forgotten action sports title which debuted in Japanese arcades in the 80s. Starring Kunio-Kun of River City Ransom fame – then only known as the star of seminal brawler Renegade – the game was built on a set of recognizable dodgeball basics with an absurdist flair, including superpowered throws and a beat ‘em up flavor. Now, Pocket Trap’s Dodgeball Academia approaches that heritage, adapting the Super Dodge Ball tradition for a sports RPG at a magical school encompassing every single dodgeball pun imaginable.
The title itself seems something of a too-on-the-nose reference to manga/anime My Hero Academia, and Dodgeball Academia’s narrative boils down to a fresh-faced, plucky young schoolkid optimist primed to win over most of the ragtag student body from the bottom up. Otto is feisty, supportive to a fault and, as it turns out, pretty darn good at dodgeball, a sport which commands the full focus of the school, including its classes, branding, and various departments and faculty. The library features shelves of dodgeball texts, a magical dodgeball provides electrical power to the campus, and impromptu matches are everywhere, essentially serving as the RPG enemy encounters.
The game’s world is just dodgeballs, all the way down, and Dodgeball Academia’s goes full bore on related puns and nonsense; Ultimate move specials are “balltimate moves,” a student needs Otto to help retrieve his collection of “Dodgeman” comics, and the frost-covered “Mount Dodgi” looms in the distance. It’s goofy but proves endearing, and the narrative’s gentle touch and silly-but-sweet spirit of camaraderie carry the ten or so hours needed to rinse the campaign.
When all one holds is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Reconfigure that aphorism with dodgeballs and that’s Dodgeball Academia’s mechanics in a nutshell. A series of quests and sidequests manifest themselves as Otto and his growing friends circle towards the big game-ending tournament, but interactions always boil down to a dodgeball match, whisking characters away to a single-screen arena face-off. Variations include knockout rules where HP-depleted characters are shuttled to offside support or forcing a single character to square off against multiple enemies at once, often with a range of elemental balls to scrap with. Somewhat gimmicky conditions like passing cars in the school parking lot or tall vision-obscuring grass in the forest area mix things up further, and every playable character and opponent have their own individual playstyles and completely different balltimate moves to discover, counter, and upgrade.
The Super Dodge Ball inspirations are always readily apparent, though dash moves and other nuanced techniques would have sweetened the deal. Much like the series which inspires it, there are ways to cheat the centerline as well, jumping across it for a quick spike before running back to safety. Dodgeball Academia tracks character progression via leveling up and stat/ability bumps, and special (arguably overpowered) edible shop items can permanently boost stats, though certain characters prefer some items over others.
A repetitive yet rich and peppy soundtrack accompanies the hand-animated artwork, with flat characters positioned on the lightly textured 3D campus bringing strong Saturday morning cartoon comparisons. Still, Dodgeball Academia is probably most conceptually reminiscent of 2017’s surprise Nintendo Switch sleeper hit Golf Story (itself rooted in Mario’s long-standing RPG-adjacent golf franchise) which is good company to keep, though this game feels significantly more focused.
Min-maxers can prioritize equipment and stat upgrades to further sabotage any challenge, but everyone else can just jump into Dodgeball Academia’s matches and glide through the snappy story. By the end, a full roster of characters unlock for use in a versus mode pack-in, albeit with no online multiplayer available. Super Dodge Ball fans will immediately respond to what Pocket Trap is up to here, but Dodgeball Academia should also prove an easygoing delight to anyone looking to sink into a very specific type of sports RPG.
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Dodgeball Academia is out now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. A digital PC code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.
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