Knockout City

Knockout City is an interesting dodgeball brawler that feels hobbled by it’s secondary systems and menus.

The core gameplay of Knockout City is pretty good. I’m not an expert, or even anywhere past the bronze silver rank, but at least for me it feels straightforward and easy to enjoy. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the non-gameplay elements.

Knockout City is an action-brawler, themed around dodgeball. The game itself is free, but it contains microtransactions. I’ll talk more about those later. The short version is they’re all cosmetic. There are no gameplay advantages you can buy. Anyway, back to the actual game.

There are multiple game modes, including 1v1 and 3v3. I’m going to focus on the 3v3 mode for this writeup, since it’s the gamemode played in ranked.

Core Gameplay

A game of Knockout City consists of two teams playing to best of 3 rounds. Each round is first to 10 points. You get a point whenever an opposing player is knocked out. This can be from them falling off a ledge, being hit by an obstacle, or running out of health from being smacked with dodgeballs.

Dodgeballs are the heart of Knockout City. It is, after all, a dodgeball game. They’re scattered around the arena. You can run over them to pick them up, and tossing them requires you to charge. They’re not really physics projectiles. Instead, they lock onto the target you’re focused at, and will head toward that target. There are three throw patterns, a straight shot, a lob, and shot that can be curved around walls. These throws are executed by tapping the input keys as part of a double jump.

On the flip side, if you’re having a dodgeball thrown at you, all you need to do is hit right click right before it impacts you while facing the ball to catch it. You can then throw it back immediately if you want.

While it might seem like this would lead to an infinite Zelda boss fight situation of launching projectiles back and fourth forever, let me introduce the intensity mechanic. Intensity is built on a ball by readying a throw, and also when balls are caught. Higher intensity balls travel faster. The ball will move quicker and quicker with each toss and catch, preventing you from getting stuck n a loop.

There are a bunch of other clever mechanics as well. You and your teammate can’t find a dodgeball? You can roll up and get passed the ball by your teammate. The inputs for choosing throw type also function as a double jump. KO City keeps things fresh by randomly selecting a special dodgeball each map. These range from balls like the moonball, which lets you jump extra high while carrying it, to the pinball style multi-ball, which lets you carry three balls at once. You can also fake throw, pass to teammates with a single button, and just generally the movement feels very good.

I think that gives a decent overview of the game’s general vibe, but really the best way to understand Knockout City is to play it.

The Not-Gameplay

While we’re here, let’s talk about monetization. There’s a lot of stuff for sale in Knockout City, but none of it impacts actual gameplay so I don’t care. Yes, there’s a battle-pass. Yes, there are multiple forms of currency. Yes, there’s daily quests, and normal quests, and I guess there’s a difference?

Frankly, while Knockout City does have an interesting sort of holographic projection 1920’s art design, I don’t like the art. There’s character customization. I ended up making my character look like this. I think it accurately conveys how much I care about the game’s aesthetics.

None of this relates to my primary issues with Knockout City though. My primary issue with Knockout City is… the menus and the clutter. That probably sounds stupid, but let me explain.

Knockout City just feels like it has a massive amount of downtime. Lots of your time is spent not playing Knockout City. After launching the game after an update, the game has to boot, update again (no, I don’t know why), close, and be relaunched. I decided to time how long it would take me to get into a game, and it takes just under a minute for the game to start up, click through the in-game announcements, and finally get into the hub.

Except you can’t play from the hub, instead you need to open the menu back up, select the “Play” option, pick your match type, and actually queue. After queuing, the match actually starting can take about 30 seconds. You want to quit the game? The menu option sort of shows up greyed out, but you can still click it.

There’s a lot of dead space, and dead time that splits up all the actual action, and makes it feel like a bit of a chore to keep playing. Even the matches have a one minute timer before they even start looking for another match, and this can’t be skipped. I’d understand if this was a COD style game with loadouts or a continual lobby, but neither of those exist here.

Overall I like Knockout City, but the game doesn’t do itself any favors with any of the small features. I feel like it’s best enjoyed as a game where you get a stack of friends, and all just goof off. That way you have folks to talk to or chat with during the downtime.

Knockout City is free on Steam, and also probably Epic, but I’m not going to check.