Stikbold Review (PS4) - Operation Sports

There aren't many dodgeball games around, and the world needs more dodgeball games. Nothing like the red-faced embarrassment of cracking someone with a bouncy ball and watching them bail onto the ground. With Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure, developer Game Swing has crafted an amusing take on the world of "professional" dodgeball. The game has some notable omissions (online play, custom characters) as well as some performance and AI issues, but if you're looking for a bit of charm and some local multiplayer wackiness, you might be able to look beyond those flaws.

The dodgeball action in Stikbold! is really only dodgeball in the loosest sense, as the matches start out with a few players and a ball but then layer on some crazy. There are environmental hazards to deal with as well as interference from players who have been knocked out. You can even shove other players, NBA Jam–style, in order to get the ball away from them. The ability to pass between teammates, charge up shots and curve throws around obstacles also adds some finesse to each play session. In a way, the game almost ends up feeling like a bit of a twin-stick shooter with how you move and throw.

When playing against friends, you can select from any of the unlocked dodgeball aficionados and stages, with maps ranging from simple gymnasiums to beach courses and beyond. Most of the play areas are taken from the game's story mode. With up to six players on the map and the ability to play free-for-all or team play, you'll have a decent time if you've got a few friends to play with. Still, AI bots are an option. The action remains lively, with the aforementioned physicality and curve shots creating some frantic moments. If you get knocked out, you can do things like lightning strikes or tidal waves from the sidelines, wiping out other players until you're back in. Obstacles on the map create good cover and evasion opportunities, too. If you're really paying attention, you can even catch a hard shot and then return the favor.

It's a shame that this multiplayer offering (the legs of the game) is not available online as that would have really helped the staying power. Additionally, while there are some rule modifiers and gameplay tweaks you can make, you can't customize stages or characters, which seems a shame considering how simple everything looks. Performance suffers with lots on the screen too, as you'll see stuttering and framerate issues popping up here and there. It's not a major problem, but it kind of hinders you when the game already demands quick reflexes.

The story mode provides a good dose of the game's charm as the simple yet amusing tale will trot you through 12 stages of dodgeball adventure. Bjorn and Jerome (what a great pair of dudes!) are a bit indifferent about their previous year's second-place finish in the local tournament, but their coach isn't having it. He wants that first-place trophy. But the pair of dodgeball buddies get distracted by other pursuits, which puts them on a bizarre quest through nearby fields and beaches as well as onto an oil rig and even right down into hell itself. It gets weird. But the simple character design and silly gag humor makes it kind of work.

It's a shame some of the late-game stages get crowded, bogging you down with outside interference and tons of stuff on the screen, which can play havoc for your AI partner or human teammate. The AI teammate gets particularly dumb on some of the last stages, throwing the ball into you or getting swatted by the various bosses and special characters you'll face. To be fair, several of these encounters are quite unique, offering new ways to use the mechanics and conquer your foes. But it can be frustrating when you can barely even get your bearings and then are promptly blasted by an opponent, only to realize that your AI partner is down (resulting in a loss).

One neat little wrinkle to the story mode stages is the inclusion of in-game achievements, which encourage you to play in different ways. One stage has you assaulted by beach dwellers, and you're rewarded if you can explode all of the surfboards on the map. Similarly, there's a stage involving a giant whale boss, and you get kudos if you don't get squashed by him when he jumps around. It's a small thing, but these stage goals encourage you to replay the story mode in new ways.

Final Thoughts

If you're looking for something that works well for local co-op game sessions, you could do worse than Stikbold!. It has decent speed and impact to the action, and the wackiness of environmental traps and outside interference keep things hopping. The story mode, while brief, adds a bit of charm, too. I wish there were more ways to customize the action and players, and online play would've been great, but the game has some heart.

Score: 5.5 (Average)

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