Dodgeball is a sport that doesn't see many videogame adaptations, beyond the classic Super Dodgeball series. We can add a new game to the list with the arrival of Stikbold: A Dodgeball Adventure on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
With approachable dodgeball action, fun fantasy elements and local multiplayer, Stikbold might be just what dodgeball fans are looking for. Find out more in our detailed review!
Disclosure: This review was conducted on Xbox One using a copy provided by Curve Digital.
Stikbold features something you wouldn't expect from an indie "sports" game: a fully-fledged 12-level Story Mode for one or two local players. The story comes to life through 3D animated cinematics. As it begins, we meet Björn and Jerome, two (seemingly) professional dodgeball players on the eve of their next big competition.
Our heroes failed to take home the gold cup last year due to their immaturity and competing egos. They were also distracted by a competitor who happens to be a very lovely lady. When a mysterious man in a devil costume drops from the ceiling and kidnaps this object of their affections, our heroes must embark on a madcap journey to rescue her before the big tournament.
Every level begins and ends with a cinematic chronicling the duo's misadventures as they chase the devil-suited man. The story keeps its tongue firmly in cheek, although the dialog at times comes across as awkwardly translated from the original Danish. It's also dubious when the heroes steal a kid's float and thwart everyone who tries to stop them via dodgeball, which doesn't seem very heroic. But kids will enjoy the silly antics and blocky, vaguely Minecraft-like art style (if not the terrible soundtrack).
Story Mode is a lot of fun, and lasts a good while for a game that usually wouldn't even have a Story Mode. When playing solo, you'll have an AI teammate. This partner's AI could definitely be better; he doesn't help as much as he should, and I've been struck by friendly fire throws more than a few times. The game lets you pass to your partner, but I'd much rather be able to simply take control of him when he has the ball. Then you'd never be at the mercy of his AI.
Dodging the ball
In the real sport of dodgeball, two teams occupy opposite sides of a court and throw balls at the other side, attempting to strike opposing players. Stikbold plays fast and loose with the rules, but always in the name of fast-paced fun.
Both teams of two players start at opposite sides of the arena and rush to grab a single dodgeball. After that, the competitors can move anywhere in the circular arena and aren't restricted to one side or the other. Rounds end when both players on a team have been knocked out or otherwise incapacitated, and games generally continue until one side wins three rounds.
The approachable controls are part of Stikbold's charm. Players move with the left analog stick and aim with the right, not unlike a twin-stick shooter. The right trigger throws the ball, of course. The longer you hold the trigger, the harder the throw. Hold it too long and you'll throw automatically, so you can't just maintain a full charge at all times.
Getting hit by the ball usually stuns a player rather than knocking him or her out. A second hit will finish the target off. Naturally, dodging plays a big part as well. Hit the left trigger to dash in any direction. Dash towards a thrown ball to catch it, gaining possession of the ball. Unlike the real sport, catching the ball won't eliminate the player who threw it – but you can certainly toss it back to stun or knock the foe out.
The rest of Stikbold's charm comes from the cartoon-like reality in which it takes place. Sure, it offers a standard arena, but the others become increasingly surreal. Teams will do battle on a beach as waves and crabs attack; an oil platform plagued by waterspouts; a volcanic area with pools of lava; and more. The amped-up arenas recall those of the classic Bomberman series.
Getting knocked out doesn't mean the end of things either, at least in local multiplayer mode. Defeated players can circle the arena and fire projectiles at surviving opponents in what the game calls Harassments. Harassing players can send in a streaker to startle competitors, lightning blasts, beach balls, Frisbees, and more. Each arena cycles between three different harassments, adding chaotic variety to the mix.
Besides a relatively lengthy and inarguably wacky Story Mode, the meat of Stikbold's experience comes from local multiplayer battles (online play is not supported). One to four players can compete on one console.
Should you lack a full assortment players, you can mix in between one and five bots and individually select their difficulty levels. The game only supports for human players but allows two bots on top of that, so it's a shame that six humans can't play.
The assortment of multiplayer arenas could be larger; five is pretty skimpy for a game like this. But unlike some local multiplayer-oriented games like the content-anemic SlashDash, Stikbold at least offers a fair number of options to give Stikbold some staying power.
Players can select:
- Team Play or Free for All
- Points to win and whether both people have to be knocked out to score a point
- Specific Harassments for knocked-out players or allow them to cycle
- Bots and bot difficulty
- Duration of stun time
- Enable or disable "Stinger" hard throws
- Enable or disable arena hazards
I played several four-player games of Stikbold with kids, and they all had a blast.
Stikbold features 26 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. When you launch the game, it pops up a warning that only the first player can earn Achievements. That is such a poor choice for a local multiplayer-oriented game. Hardly any of the Achievements involve stat-tracking, so everyone who completes the requirements should get credit. There's no excuse for a co-op game to not award Achievements to both players, either.
All that said, the actual Achievements aren't so bad. Every level of Story Mode has three optional side goals to complete. If you knock out all three, you'll get an Achievement for that level. Individual Achievements for perfecting every level are a much greater incentive than one Achievement for perfecting all of them, as many games would do. I highly recommend seeking these on Beginner difficulty though, as perfecting every little level on the higher difficulties will require a lot of retries.
Other than that, you have Achievements for beating the game on all three difficulties and a few miscellaneous tasks.
A rose by any other name
Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure is the best dodgeball game since Super Dodgeball. However, it has one big thing working against it: that title! Let's face it, Stikbold doesn't mean anything to non-Danish audiences. I understand being proud of your country's language and culture, but you just don't sell a sports game to international audiences by giving it an obscure foreign name. Diablo works as a title because English-speakers know what the word "diablo" means – and even then, British people don't pronounce it as intended.
Title aside, dodgeball and local multiplayer fans should have a great time with Stikbold. The $10 price tag is perfect for the game's level of content, too. Here's hoping the game sells well enough for us to get a sequel with online play and more arenas!