Music and games are two great loves of mine, and I do enjoy it when I can experience the two combined. This usually takes the form of a rhythm action game, and one of my personal favourites is the fantastic Elite Beat Agents, released on the Nintendo DS. Super Dodgeball Beats instantly reminded me of this, so with high hopes I brushed off my (questionable) rhythm action skills to find out.
It’s only right to point out, before anything else, Super Dodgeball Beats’ style; that being anime visuals backed by a funky dance soundtrack. The game looks truly fantastic. The hand-drawn anime-style artwork oozes character. The cutscenes are also presented in a manga-style comic layout, which fits into the overall theme perfectly. The different characters you face off against in the game look great too, and all have their own distinct styles. They may be a little stereotypical, but that is just part of the game’s charm.
Thankfully, in a game based around music, the tracks are all really enjoyable to listen to. There are 18 original tunes here, all of which are lively and full of pumping beats. You may not be listening to them on the bus into work – although I would with some – but they fit into the game perfectly.
Super Dodgeball Beats has three modes: Training, Multiplayer and Championship. Training is not to be confused with a tutorial. This mode is exactly as it says, letting you hone your skills as you’ll be given no help or guidance on how to play. Multiplayer provides local 1v1 action, in which you can customise the battle how you like, choosing the track, stage and team of characters to play as. There is no online functionality here however. Finally, Championship mode sees your rookie team vying to become the greatest Dodgeball team in the galaxy. This is the game’s main attraction; where you’ll spend most of your time.
Your team, the “Sigma Nerds Club”, will face off against different opponents and aim to take the top spot over three different events. These start at rookie level and gradually get more difficult. If you successfully get through the league stage of an event, you’ll then enter the knockout stages. Think of the World Cup, but if it was full of dancing Japanese characters throwing dodgeballs at each other, and you’ll get the drift.
Thankfully, you’ll get a quick tutorial explaining how to play when you start your Championship journey, so all will fast become clear. The bar at the top of your screen will be decisive in winning and losing, and it is this which contains a dodgeball which starts the match bang in the middle. If at the end of the match the ball is in your half of the bar, you win – if it’s on the opponent’s side, you lose. If it remains in the middle white space, it’s a tie. However, when you get to the knockout stages a tie will no longer be possible, so it’s win or lose. Ultimately, the more accurately you hit the beats the further you’ll drag the dodgeball into your half of the bar, and keep it there to win.
Your team take up the same positions as the face A, B, X and Y buttons on the Xbox controller. When it’s a character’s turn to hit a note, a ball will appear underneath them and a white circle will close in. You’ll need to press the corresponding button at the right time to hit the beat. You can miss, be early, be late or hit it spot on and you’ll clearly see how well you hit each beat thanks to the fantastic animations.
The left thumbstick is used for a directional beat. You have to push it in the required direction at the right time, then release it when it reaches the other character. The final beat type is the long beat. Here you need to keep the appropriate button pressed down as the beat builds. Then you simply need to release when the beat bar is charged. As ever, timing is everything.
As you play you’ll build up a beat combo, and fill your power-up meter. When it’s ready, hitting any trigger or bumper uses it. The meter will fill up nice and quickly, matching the tempo of the gameplay. Power-ups vary in type but basically aim to disrupt your opponent’s rhythm. These range from blocking the view of the beat circle to placing a bomb in your opponent’s hand which will detonate if they achieve anything less than a perfect beat. Be careful, as they can also be used against you.
Super Dodgeball Beats is lots of fun, with a fairly gentle difficulty curve. Things get a little more challenging when you reach the knockout stages, and as you unlock new leagues they gradually build in difficulty. It’s not the sort of game that necessarily needs to be challenging to be fun, but it starts off pretty easy so that the later challenge is welcome. The latter leagues do require more concentration, and you may need to give your eyes a quick break every now and then. If you lose a knockout game there is hope, as you can retry without having to start all over again, but you will start from the beginning of the knockout stages.
The gameplay in Super Dodgeball Beats is simple but fun, sprinkled with a pinch of strategy. Before each match you can select a mascot, who will bring certain benefits to your team and make available different types of power-ups for you to use.
When you’ve finished a level you’ll get a ranking in the form of a medal. The game will also tell you how well you’ve hit each beat. The better you do, the quicker you’ll unlock more power-ups. Super Dodgeball Beats has plenty to unlock as you play and you can check what you’ve unlocked in the codex menu.
As in any rhythm action game, the quality of songs versus the inputs is key and I’m glad to say that overall Super Dodgeball Beats’ tracks clearly guide you when to hit the beats, just by listening to them. This especially shows when your enemy is throwing disruptions your way, and you can power through just by listening to the track and guesstimating when to hit the beats.
Super Dodgeball Beats, despite being a rhythm action game, feels original and is a brilliantly stylish take on a well explored genre. Rather than just having a group of characters dancing, the action is presented in the framework of a dodgeball game. It’s a simple enough setup, but one that still feels different and original at the same time.
Fun, energetic and original, Super Dodgeball Beats on Xbox One delivers exactly what it says on the tin; and it does so well. You may blast through it in a few short hours, but at just £11.99 it’s well worth it.