This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
Knockout City Review
Knockout City is a blast, but does it have staying power?
Okay, I admit it. I was wrong about Knockout City. When the game was first revealed during a Nintendo Direct presentation earlier this year, it didn’t make a great first impression. I immediately wrote it off as a multiplayer game that seemed doomed to die a few months after launch. Comparisons were made to Rocket Arena, another EA Original that came and went in the blink of an eye. Now that I’ve actually had the opportunity to go hands-on with the game, however, I’m actually really surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I’m not sure if Knockout City will stick around, but I sure hope it does.
Knockout City is a team-based game centered around dodgeball, or “dodgebrawl” as developer Velan Studios calls it. If you’ve played dodgeball before, then you know the basics here. Hit the other team with balls and don’t get hit yourself. The first team to reach a certain number of eliminations wins. There are twists to this formula in Knockout City like special balls and unique game modes, but for the most part, it’s just dodgeball. Now, video games are no stranger to sports. Everything from table tennis to car soccer has had its time in the spotlight, but I walked away from Knockout City with one question: why hasn’t there been a big dodgeball game until now? I mean no disrespect to the 2002 classic Monsters, Inc. Scream Arena, but there hasn’t been a game that capitalizes on the pleasure of throwing things at other people in the way Knockout City does. The premise is simple, and Knockout City wonderfully executes the idea.
There are two main actions in Knockout City: throwing and catching. You can lightly toss a ball at another player, but it’s harder for them to catch it if you charge your throw before releasing it. Catching requires precise timing, and there’s a punishable cooldown on the catch so you can’t just spam it. Throwing and catching a ball sounds simple on paper, but in practice, it’s super fun. You can get trapped in really intense games of catch against an opposing player, tossing the ball back and forth as the catching window shrinks tighter and tighter. These little duels are the absolute highlight of Knockout City, and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief once you finally manage to knock out someone who keeps catching what you throw at them.
Timing isn’t everything. It’s pretty easy to pick up on the correct timing to catch an incoming ball after an hour or two of play. Learning to catch is only the first step toward getting good, however. Faking out your opponent, mixing up your strategies, and overwhelming enemies with your teammates are the keys to success in Knockout City, and this is where the game really begins to shine. You can perform different types of throws and either lob or curve the ball, and once you get good enough, you can make it look like you’re going to throw a certain type of way and then choose another strategy once you bait out your opponent’s catch. You can also quickly pass the ball between teammates to confuse your enemies, and you can even pick up your allies and throw them as a special aerial explosive ball. What starts out as a simple game of dodgeball evolves into a field of mind games that require lightning-quick reactions to avoid. The skill ceiling is surprisingly high.
There are several maps, modes, and special balls thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. The maps provide the most variety, and each of the five available at launch is great. Rooftop Rumble takes place on two rooftops connected by a lone bridge, providing plenty of opportunities to knock opponents of the edge of the map for free points, while Jukebox Junction features trains that periodically run through the map. The gimmicks of each locale change up the game in interesting ways, especially when paired with certain special balls. Special balls will appear randomly each match, and they all have unique effects on top of dealing damage. The cage ball, for example, traps enemies in ball form long enough for you to pick them up and throw them, which is perfect for tossing them off the buildings in Rooftop Rumble. While the map rotation and special ball lineup spice things up for the first few hours, you’ll quickly see everything the game has to offer after a short play session.
Knockout City is a blast for the first few hours, but repetition begins to set in after a certain point. There just isn’t much incentive to keep playing once the fun has worn off. There are cosmetics to earn and unlock, but none of them are very interesting. The game’s art style and tone are pretty lame, and the cosmetic items are equally dull. It feels like the same cartoony style we’ve seen several times before, and it doesn’t work any better in Knockout City. Things could always get better on the progression side of things after a few post-launch updates, but right now, there just aren’t that many compelling rewards to work toward. There are 17 cosmetic categories though, so there are bound to be at least a few things you’ll like for your character. There’s also cross-platform progression, which is always a nice touch.
Knockout City’s biggest weakness is that it’s frontloaded with fun. Your first evening with the game will almost certainly be a great time, but you’ll get diminishing returns each time you come back to play unless you’re really committed to grinding the ranked League Play ladder. It suffers from the same problems that Fall Guys did last year. Without a steady stream of new maps, special balls, and other new mechanics, the game will become stale and players will move onto other things. Velan Studios appears to have a solid roadmap laid out for Knockout City though, so the game at least has a fighting chance when it comes to maintaining a playerbase. It also helps that the game is available on Xbox Game Pass and features a free trial during the launch period, both of which will help get it into the hands of more people.
Overall, Knockout City is a great time. I was incredibly surprised at how much I enjoyed the dodgeball gameplay, especially after the poor first impression the game made with its reveal trailer and early marketing. I don’t think it has the longevity to maintain a high player count, especially with how weak most of the cosmetics and rewards are at launch and how repetitive the game gets after a few hours, but I really do hope the game sticks around for at least a few months. Knockout City is an absolute riot, especially with friends.
- Score: 3.5 / 5
- Available On: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
- Published By: Electronic Arts
- Developed By:
- Genre: Sports
- US Release Date: May 21, 2021
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "Knockout City is an absolute blast, even if it doesn't have many reasons to return after players have had their fill."