What Is Knockout City Really About?

Knockout City says it’s about EPIC DODGEBALL BATTLES, but in practice it feels like a new spin on a seemingly unrelated genre.

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Knockout City, the new multiplayer game from Velan Studios and EA, makes its pitch pretty simple. On Steam you only need to glance at the game’s description to find the all-caps phrase EPIC DODGEBALL BATTLES, which effectively sums up the rest the description’s references to team based multiplayer matches where you throw, catch, pass, dodge, and tackle your way to dodgeball dominance.

You may remember this game from its trailer that featured a bunch of knockoffs of well-known videogame characters getting addicted to the game. There was a royalty-free version of Peach from Super Mario Brothers, an orc from World of Warcraft, a Counter Strike guy, a football player, and a generic space soldier.

Interestingly though, none of those characters represent the games that Knockout City derives most of its inspiration from. If they wanted an homage to that genre, they should’ve put a knockoff of Scorpion or Ryu in the interviewee’s chair because Knockout City is really about blending the essence of fighting games into a team-based, multiplayer experience.

If you’re only going off of the game’s looks, it might seem like Knockout City branched off of the third-person shooter limb of the videogame family tree. Sure, you’re using a dodgeball instead of a gun, but the general process of locating enemies, aiming at them, and firing looks similar to the same basic loop found in Fortnite or Rogue Company or any other third person shooter. However, once you get your hands on the controller, you’ll quickly realize that this game feels nothing like a shooter.

In a shooter, you’re just waiting to spot someone and pulling the trigger — if you pull the trigger before they do, you win that interaction. But spotting an opponent in Knockout City is just the beginning of a much longer interaction. Engaging with an enemy in Knockout City is to initiate this dance with them that’s part rock-paper-scissors, part boxing-style footwork, and part game of chicken.

An encounter in Knockout City is all about reading your opponent and reacting to their moves with perfect timing. It’s about knowing that if an opponent is targeting you from far away, you should prepare to catch their throw right before it hits you. It’s about getting up close to an opponent when they don’t have a ball so that they have less time to react to your throw. It’s about dodging if you’re in a one-on-one engagement, but not if there are other enemies nearby that could hit you during the brief moment in which you can’t move after dodging.

Learning this rhythm that’s focused around anticipating and countering your enemy’s moves with just the right timing reminded me of when I started learning how to play Mortal Kombat, and discovering that behind the gory exterior of that game is an intricate, detailed system that revolves around understanding the exact amount of time it takes to execute a action and deploying those moves when the opportunity arises.

These fundamental timing-based attacking and defending mechanics are the core of every fighting game, from Mortal Kombat to Street Fighter to Tekken to Super Smash Brothers. The details of each fighting game are different, but at every game’s core is the same fundamental system of attacking, defending, and countering with perfect timing. The key to success in all of those games is recognizing your enemy’s rhythms while making your own patterns unpredictable.

Knockout City takes these core fighting game tenants and blends them with the structure of dodgeball. Catching an enemy’s throw with perfect timing is similar to executing a perfectly-timed block that gives you a slight advantage. Winding up a throw is the same as committing to a lengthy attack that might leave you vulnerable for a moment. And where you’re positioned in relation to your enemies in Knockout City determines how effective or ineffective different moves are, just like your two-dimensional positioning in a fighting game.

The result of this is an experience that’s ultimately just as much about mental strategy as it is about having lightning-fast reflexes. Knockout City is the kind of multiplayer game that never lets your brain relax; it forces you to constantly scan for opportunities to attack while also remaining perpetually on-guard defensively. It’s a game that really shines in the moments when you initiate that confrontational dance with an enemy, both of you waiting for one to flinch and create an opportunity to attack. It’s an experience that’s incredibly satisfying when you outsmart your opponent and extremely frustrating when they outsmart you.

You could say that this is a game about EPIC DODGEBALL BATTLES, but Knockout City is really about blending the essence of fighting games into a team-based, multiplayer experience.

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