A sport which, here in the United States, has all but disappeared in public schools from coast to coast over the fear of targeted violence, dodgeball was always a favorite of mine growing up. The few short weeks in gym class playing a modified version of the sport were always intense and adrenaline pumping. Sure, smaller and weaker kids may have been at a clear disadvantage, but using my height even at a young age, I was able to intimidate anyone who considered themselves "tough." Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure came as a surprise, as the last dodgeball game I played, or even heard about, was released 15 years ago on the Game Boy Advance. In association with The World Dodgeball Association, developer Game Swing has developed a uniquely stylized and charming dodgeball experience, complete with single-player narrative and local multiplayer.
Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure tells the tale of Bjorn and Jerome, once the greatest team in the land, but their coach laments last year’s second place finish. After peering over at the duo goofing off inside the gymnasium instead of training, he yearns to release his inner devil upon both of them. Bjorn can’t control himself when the sexy redhead Heidi walks into the gym. Heidi along with her partner Poul won the gold trophy last year, much to the dismay of Bjorn and Jerome’s coach. However, the Devil appears, complete with a trident and whisks them away. Bjorn vows to rescue her, even if it means losing to them once again in the championship game.
The search for Heidi (and her partner) take our heroes across unique locales, where you’ll encounter some very unlikely dodgeball competitors. For example, your first stop takes you to a park where some mushroom eating hippies are attempting to make honey. The vibrant environments and simplistic cutesy characters give the game a classic Saturday morning cartoon feel, but a portion of the dialogue is aimed at an older audience. All of the stages are circular in nature but are populated with various hazards and things to throw that aren’t a dodgeball. In the story mode, there are three optional challenges or objectives to complete, focusing on using the hazards to your advantage, such as hitting the hippies with the hallucinogenic mushrooms, or knocking drilling activists off an oil rig platform. After earning three points and winning the match, you’ll be pitted against a boss before moving on to a new locale. Bosses are tougher foes, larger and unconventional, capable of taking multiple hits while you have to deal with standard opponents at the same time.
Playing on the PlayStation 4, Stikbold! Utilizes a simple to use twin-stick control scheme. Picking up the dodgeball and other objects only require you to walk over them. Aiming with the right stick allows complete freedom by using the left stick to move around. Shots can be charged up by holding the button down (in this case R2), and you can even curve your shot by flicking the right stick as soon as the ball is thrown. Sometimes you’ll score a one-hit knockout, but typically you’ll have to hit someone twice to knock them down. When playing as a team, you’ll have a chance to revive your partner by standing near them for a set amount of time. However, this will also leave you vulnerable. Typically, I’ll ensure I have the dodgeball before attempting to revive my partner, but that doesn’t allows go as planned. Even if you have the dodgeball, you aren’t invincible, as other players are capable of knocking it from your grasp. Diving out of the way of an incoming shot is the best way to avoid being hit, but timing it correctly and aiming towards the direction the ball is coming from will allow you to catch it.
Once you’ve completed the story mode and unlocked most or all of the game’s 18 characters, you’ll want to gather some friends and play local multiplayer matches for up to four players, and two additional AI-controlled characters (six in total). Choosing teams or playing free-for-all matches becomes very hectic as players narrowly avoid not only catching a dodgeball with their face but all of the hazards that come with each stage. The gymnasium, for example, features a hot dog vendor (more like kielbasa), roaming around, complete with throwable meat and even fans that desire to streak across the gym and latch onto your body.
Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure is an enjoyable and competitive local multiplayer game to play with your friends. I didn't expect to enjoy playing through a story mode about dodgeball as much as I did. It can also be played cooperatively with a friend as well. I’m still working on completing all the objectives from the story mode to unlock the final character, but there are plenty of unlikely goofy characters to choose from for local multiplayer.Note: Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure was reviewed on PlayStation 4. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.