South America is not a region typically associated with game development, but perhaps that needs to change. I say this because I’m talking about Dodgeball Academia, a very cool sports anime-inspired RPG by Brazilian developer Pocket Trap. From the moment I booted the game up, I felt like I was in an over-the-top sports anime series and had to remind myself that this is not a pre-existing sports anime IP… but it should be!
The tale stars an unflappably optimistic boy named Otto who wants to be the very best at the titular boarding school that trains superpowered dodgeball players. Otto is confident to a fault, as he actually thinks it’s his lucky day when he runs afoul of the school bully who challenges him to a dodgeball game on the first day of classes. It was a joy to follow the adventures of Otto, his friends, and his rivals over the course of 10-15 hours. There are eight chapters, and each chapter plays out like an anime episode. Because of this, Dodgeball Academia feels like the first season of an anime series and sets itself up nicely for a follow-up.
You know what you’re getting with Dodgeball Academia, and the story is good for what it is. Tha game isn’t some profoundly philosophical school drama like the Persona games — it’s a dose of cartoonish fun about a wacky dodgeball school and the antics of its wildly eclectic students and staff. It doesn’t matter if you’re a human, a vampire, a balloon, a talking cat, a cube, a gorilla, or whatever else; if you can play dodgeball, you can attend this school.
I have a couple of minor issues with the script, but they didn’t inhibit my enjoyment. One example was that some NPC dialogue “reset to zero” with each chapter: during one particular chapter, I became a member of an NPC trio’s secret club for a sidequest, but once the chapter ended, their lines reverted to “no outsiders allowed in our secret club!” I also would have liked the opportunity to create my own team name instead of being made to choose from three options.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the optional language learning feature, where the main text displays in one language, but a subtitle-style bar at the bottom of the screen displays the text in one of several other languages. So you can have the main text in English and the subtitles in Portuguese. Given that the game takes place in a school where learning is fun, you might as well learn something while having fun yourself. I thought this was a unique and cool idea that I would like to see used more often in gaming.
It’s impossible to deny that Dodgeball Academia has style too! The clean visuals aren’t the most graphically intensive, but they look great. The expressive 2D character models integrate very nicely into the vividly colored polygonal environments. The anime influence is quite prominent in the game’s look, but the vibrant color schemes of the environments and characters also evoke Dodgeball Academia‘s South American roots. Functionality is never sacrificed in the name of style, and I found the menus both striking to look at and intuitive to use. The rocking soundtrack features catchy, upbeat tunes that pair nicely with their intended scenes and locations. I especially love the main campus theme with its driving guitar and throbbing bass line.
Dodgeball Academia plays best with a gamepad, and though the default controls aren’t inadequate, I wish I had the option to remap the buttons more to my liking. I sometimes found myself wanting to execute one action but instead ended up hitting the incorrect button in the heat of the moment. Unfortunately, the keyboard controls are worse, especially if you prefer using WASD for movement rather than the arrow keys. The Z, X, and C keys are for primary commands, and using them with WASD movement can put your left hand in awkward positions. In contrast, the keyboard controls are more bearable if you use the arrow keys to move, but there is still no option to remap key commands.
The game’s frenetic real-time battles all take place on various dodgeball courts. Some matches play out using different dodgeball rules than others, and as you progress, the game introduces new elements, which keep combat fresh. These aspects are quite well implemented, and battles never feel gimmicky, even with the various elements and courts. The mechanics fall into the “easy to learn, difficult to master” category, and the tutorial sequences in the early chapters are fun, fast paced, and useful.
Several students find their way onto Otto’s team, but only three can fight in battle at a time. Luckily, every character earns experience points regardless of whether they were in the match or knocked out. While boss and sub-boss battles occur as the plot moves along, normal encounters initiate much like trainer battles in the Pokémon series, where entering the field of vision of another student triggers a throwdown. There are only so many foes in each chapter, so it’s essential to take on battles to earn some much-needed money and EXP.
During combat, you need to think fast and be quick on your feet because button mashing will get you trounced. Not only are the strength and timing of your regular and special attack throws important, but it’s also vital to master defensive moves like the various catches or counters each squad member can use. Pressing the right button at the appropriate time to catch or counter any incoming dodgeballs without taking damage is crucial to succeeding.
You can control the difficulty through the Damage Dealt and Damage Received meters. At the default setting, they are set at 100% each. Damage Dealt ranges from 5% to 400%, while Damage Received goes from 0% to 400%, allowing you to fine-tune the challenge just the way you like. These meters can be accessed in the settings menu at any time, including during battles. While the default settings weren’t too bad, there were a few times when I adjusted them because some matches felt cheap.
In combat, you control one person while AI controls your teammates, and with the press of a button, you can switch between them. Teammate AI is questionable at first, but as they level up and learn more skills, I didn’t feel like I was babysitting them as much. However, some options to tinker with their AI tactics would not have gone amiss. I don’t need an extensive programming system like Final Fantasy XII‘s gambits, but just a simple option to make each of my teammates favor either offense or defense would have been nice.
At the end of the day, though, Dodgeball Academia hits all the right notes to become a smash hit multimedia entity. Not only can I see an animation and comic book or manga series, but I can also picture a plethora of Dodgeball Academia merchandise like stickers, apparel, toys, phone accessories, dodgeballs, and much more. So you should enroll in Dodgeball Academia today and become the sports anime protagonist you’ve always wanted to be.