The endeavour one must go through in order to encapsulate the captivating appeal of a Saturday morning cartoon is likely arduous. Successfully balancing the overtly cliché tropes of an overly enthusiastic children’s show with the heartfelt and grounding genuineness of a brilliantly charming drama has rarely been achieved. There are so few shows that spring to mind when thinking of the successful coalescing of two diametrically opposed facets of TV. The only one that would spring to mind is the sports anime Inazuma Eleven. It is a show both brilliantly bizarre and wacky as it is tearjerkingly saccharine. That was, of course, until I played Dodgeball Academia, a game that excels where so many others have failed. Not only does it perfectly craft the ultimate Saturday morning cartoon, but it also allows the player to truly immerse themselves in it like no other media before it.
“Dodgeball Academia delights itself upon the mundane facets of its extraordinary world.”
The first most outwardly exceptional thing you’re likely to notice about Dodgeball Academia is its extraordinarily phenomenal aesthetic. Its colourful cast of memorable characters is represented by lavishly designed 2D models. Additionally, its open-area school is brought to life with excruciating detail. While its character designs never shy away from tropes, they’re so unique in their appearance that they overcome any feelings of familiarity. Each and every character, from the stock student to a more integral teammate, has such a creatively inspired design that had this been a more widely released TV show, they’d been seen as iconic.
Furthermore, Dodgeball Academia delights itself upon the mundane facets of its extraordinary world. Seemingly insignificant décor covers every inch of the school grounds, from stains cheekily altered to resemble the pompous principal, to the superfluous stock scattered across the shop floor. But all of these coalesce to make the world not only feel exceedingly dense and rich in detail but also an ebulliently flourishing school teeming with life.
The vibrant colours and cartoony aesthetic truly capture the excessively rambunctious and blisteringly fast-paced style of a Saturday morning cartoon. It does so without sacrificing detail and charm. Fortunately, at all times Dodgeball Academia feels exuberant in its vivacious visuals. It never overstays its welcome or becomes overbearingly confusing in its visual noise. Instead, it offers a coherent and beautifully designed world populated by genuinely interesting and effervescent characters.
“Its narrative, while simple, offers up an engaging adventure that truly captures the nostalgic beauty of childhood wonder.”
Fortunately, even outside of the game’s delightful visuals, it remains a positively fantastic experience. I find that there are so few times that I actively chuckle or chortle thanks to the hilarious writing of a video game. Save for a few exceptions, the hilarity of a video game tends to be lost on me. It’s often engrossed in its own self-aggrandising need to audaciously demonstrate its excessive referential knowledge of meme culture and media. Fortunately, thanks to the phenomenal writing team at Pocket Trap, Dodgeball Academia is capable of showcasing its own unique sense of humour. It offers jokes that extend beyond simply flaunting one’s knowledge of quotes.
Its narrative, while simple, offers up an engaging adventure that truly captures the nostalgic beauty of childhood wonder. Narratively, Dodgeball Academia never stretches its creative muscles. However, in a rare twist of character, I don’t feel as if it necessarily requires a vigorously expressive narrative. Its characters and humourous writing keep the story feeling extremely engrossing despite its overall simplicity.
Ironically, its disinclination to create an intricately nuanced narrative with overarching themes only help make it that much more memorable. It allows the characters to drive and direct the narrative, all while ensuring that the player is immersed in its world and gameplay. It never detracts, only ever supplementing an already astoundingly tremendous world. In doing so it ensures that you’re always engaged and enjoying yourself.
“Dodgeball Academia frequently implements new abilities, teammates and combatants.”
However, despite all my praise thus far, the real success of Dodgeball Academia lies solely in its titularly named combat. Fortunately, its combat is not only incredibly smooth and intuitive but successfully captures the frantic fun found in anime such as Inazuma Eleven. Its complexity and constant innovations ensure that it never tires. It also continually increases the stakes to retain your interest long enough and see you through to the finish line. Throughout my time with Dodgeball Academia I consistently found myself purposefully engaging with the ever-evolving combat system.
Similarly to the narrative, the stripped-back nature of dodgeball itself allows each battle to feel simultaneously challenging yet accessible. Losing a fight is never indicative of the end, merely a stepping stone in your growth as a competent player. To accommodate your growth, Dodgeball Academia frequently implements new abilities, teammates and combatants. It helps guarantee your vested interest in not only your own personal growth throughout the game but in the central combat system as well. It’s a beautifully crafted system that consistently kept me on my toes.
“It’s complex enough that I felt thoroughly engaged throughout, and memorable enough that I’d happily do it all again right now.”
I’m hesitant to say that Dodgeball Academia is for everyone. It’s certainly more arcadey in nature, catering to both children and the childlike. However, that is not to say that it falters when matching the expectations and needs for a more adult audience. There’s plenty of good-natured and more complex humour scattered throughout. Furthermore, the complex combat system will keep people of all ages intrigued. I’d argue that if you’re in to games that fall further on the wholesome spectrum, then Dodgeball Academia is absolutely for you.
It’s fortunate too, as I’d been searching for a game that fit Dodgeball Academia’s description for quite some time. It’s refreshing to see a game excell in encapsulating the often rose-tinted nostalgia of our youths. It does feel like the very best version of these tropes and clichés out there. Rest assured that I mean it in the kindest way possible. Dodgeball Academia is a remarkable game that astonishes from the offset. Its combat is suitably challenging, and its narrative is always uplifting and heart-warmingly positive. It’s complex enough that I felt thoroughly engaged throughout, and memorable enough that I’d happily do it all again right now.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.