Sweaty locker rooms, mad dashes for the center of the gym, cowering in the corner to avoid getting hit with a hail of rubber balls…if any of these sound familiar, or if you happened to spend any time in an elementary school, you’re probably familiar with the great American sport of dodgeball.
Dodgeball—the real-world game loved and loathed by millions—has sent many a kid to the nurse’s office for decades. Now, imagine adding enormous swinging wrecking balls, the ability to actually become one of the balls yourself, and a subplot about a real estate developer taking control of a futuristic metropolis, and you’ve got Knockout City, the latest title from up-and-coming developer Velan Studios.
Knockout City takes every gym teacher’s go-to activity and elevates it to a fast-paced tournament; you play solo, but have the option of matching up with others online. You play in multiple complex maps with superpowered balls and easy-to-learn, hard-to-master controls perfect for all ages. Plus, it’s completely nurse’s office free.
While the game does feature a bare-bones story, the game’s real attraction is the action. Even if you feel you’ve mastered the free-for-all that is elementary school dodgeball, don’t get too comfortable; Knockout City throws multiple wrenches into the mix, for instance, a gameplay mechanic where players can roll up into a ball and be thrown at opponents by their virtual teammates. Special balls like the Moon Ball, which allows players to jump higher, and the Cage Ball, which traps opponents in—three guesses—a cage, also mix up the gameplay. Players can use a glider to soar around the map—or to launch surprise attacks on the opposing team.
The game features several different modes, but the most foundational one is Team KO. Players (or “brawlers”, as the game nicknames them) are dropped into a random arena—a construction yard, a train station, a city square, etc.—and are divided into two teams of three. Then, it’s just a matter of sprinting for the nearest ball and knocking out your opponents before they get you first. The first team to achieve 10 knockouts wins the round, and the first to win two rounds wins the match.
Other modes include Face Off, in which brawlers play one-on-one, Ball-Up, where the only balls available are your teammates, and Diamond Dash, where knocked-out players drop diamonds that can be collected by their opponents.
While the game can take up hours of your time just in the single player matches, Knockout City also offers a feature in which players can request to join other brawlers’ “crews” online. Joining one allows you to play matches with your crewmates and emblazons the crew’s logo on your character’s jacket. Players also have the ability to chat with, block, and report others in their crew.
The majority of the game’s mechanics focus on teamwork. Throw the balls around all you want, but if you don’t learn to work with your online teammates, you won’t be winning a match anytime soon. Players are shown that sometimes to help your team, you have to settle for making an assist rather than taking all the glory for yourself.
In a minor subplot revealed through environmental elements and exposition from the announcer, the residents of Knockout City try to stop real estate mogul Malcolm Magpie from knocking down the key fixtures of their city. We get the sense that our characters aren’t afraid to stand up to powerful people to fight for what they believe in—when they’re not pelting each other with rubber balls, of course.
Gameplay is fairly simple, and it’s easy for kids to pick up. The cartoony nature of the animation also steers it away from serious violence; when the player is hit by a ball and knocked out, they fly across the map before disappearing and respawning a few seconds later.
While violence in the gameplay is to be expected—balls and other objects fly are constantly slung around the map—you won’t find any of the bloody noses or bruises from real life dodgeball here. A loading screen graphic does depict a character being hit in the face with a ball and a few teeth flying out cartoonishly. During actual matches, players are hit by balls and are thrown across the map like ragdolls without any other physical ramifications.
A female character on the title screen wears a crop top that exposes her midriff (players have the option to equip similarly revealing outfits on their own characters). The player can also explore the Brawl Shop, and they’re told to dress in order to impress others so they’ll be picked to join a more exclusive crew. The avatars’ physical features are also customizable, but you have no opportunity to choose a gender for the character; every piece of clothing and body type is available to every player in any possible combination.
Language is absent here, other than a few crude jokes like a piece of graffiti that reads “Magpoop” (in reference to Malcolm Magpie). In another map, a marquee advertises a fictional upcoming movie called Return of the Mummy’s Curse. Players also have the option to “taunt” their opponents during a match by fist-pumping or pointing at them angrily.
Finally, as with most online multiplayer games, parents should be aware of the voice chat feature. Knockout City offers the ability for players to talk to their virtual teammates or opponents over a connected microphone, opening the door for a wide range of uncensored content and language. This feature can be disabled in the game’s settings, but every player will be exposed to their teammates’ user and crew names, which could potentially include crude content. While the multiplayer modes are the central attraction of Knockout City, there is also a private match feature, where only friends with a specific code are allowed into the game, should parents want to avoid their child playing with strangers altogether.
In terms of gameplay, Knockout City is, quite simply, a blast. The foundational mechanics are incredibly straightforward, and the cartoonish animation and elementary-level violence make it a good fit for kids, but there’s enough room for strategy and technique to keep older players busy as well. The key issue, really, comes from other brawlers online; parents should be aware that it is possible for their child to communicate with their teammates and opponents through the game’s features, and that not everyone is as clean as Knockout City’s crisp gameplay.
Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.