Knockout City may go down as the biggest surprise in video games in 2021. The dodgeball-themed brawl is colorful, fun, and an excellent alternative to the unending ultra-serious deathmatch games. Made by Mario Kart Live developer Velan Studios, this EA Original should be remembered as a quality title that delivers a ton of fun in an accessible package. This all starts with a dedicated approach to building a game that does not take itself too seriously, followed up by its varied level design and free feeling movement and combat. These aspects come together to cement Knockout City as one of the best player-vs-player games to release in years.
From an overlooked reveal to a standout release
While the reveal trailer for Knockout City didn’t do any favors to making this game appear anything more than a standard multiplayer game, the actual approach taken by the development team shows that they wanted to make a fun game. For me, this started with my first time playing the game during its open beta in early April. At that point, the game was already what we know it to be today, but after coming in a little weary about whether or not this would be a worthwhile experience, that first impression made a massive difference in how I see the game now. I think the same can be said for anyone who has given the game a try here in its early days. Its battle pass-like content has a lot of cosmetics so far, and with the inclusion of cross-play and cross-progression, the party and crew systems feel great.
Top tier movement and combat
What makes Knockout City stand out the most for me is how the general movement and combat feel. Essentially, as you might expect, you can compare it to a free-roaming dodgeball game in an arena. Two teams pick up dodgeballs located in designated areas of each map and use their skills and the environment to make the most out of their chances. This isn’t just a simple pick-up and throw game, though. Charging your throw will decide how fast your velocity is, while lobs and curves change your ball’s trajectory, which can be helpful for hitting enemies hiding behind cover. This adds a much-needed layer to combat that makes every part of the map feel in play and keeps you on your toes at all times.
For defensive measures, if you can time your button presses properly, you can catch incoming throws from enemies resulting in you having a charged throw ready to go. Doing this can quickly turn the tide of any battle, even if multiple enemies corner you. Aside from catches, tackling players can knock a ball out of their hands or potentially throw them off the map. It can also be used to dodge incoming throws if you do not feel comfortable catching.
One of the most interesting inclusions with Knockout City’s movement and combat, though, is the ability to go into a Ball form. By holding down the proper input, your character rolls themselves into a ball. While in this form, anyone on the field can pick you up and throw you, with you counting as a ball to help either team’s score. Charge up your throw fully while holding a teammate in Ball form, and you will throw them into the air where they can control where they come crashing down, causing an explosion and the potential to knock out multiple enemies in one move.
All of these controls are the main reason Knockout City’s combat and movement feel great. Everything feels intuitive and useful in multiple situations, but it also takes quick thinking, teamwork on the fly, and reactions to pull off the proper moves. Nothing here is hard to understand, but it takes practice and skill to master. A newcomer can wrap their heads around it, but someone who has put the time in can take over a match by utilizing these inputs.
Great level design
While the base of Knockout City’s mechanics is excellent, they wouldn’t be able to do much without fun playgrounds to pull them off in. Every map in the game is unique and brings hazards and environments that make the game worthwhile. There are not a ton of levels available at launch, but what is here is all great. From dodging busy street ways to battling it out between two skyscrapers, playing dodgeball in these bustling urban locations is high action at all times.
Some multiplayer games get into a common problem of creating maps with similar layouts, but luckily, the battlefields here all stand out from each other. Concussion Yard is one of my favorites with its wrecking ball and construction equipment scattered throughout its yard. Then, there are Back Alley Brawl’s pipes and color-themed areas, and Galaxy Burger’s disposal system and revolving doors. While we hope that there will be more maps coming in the future, the six that are playable now are all well-made and change up the gameplay in each match.
A bright future
The future of Knockout City entirely depends on how well the development team can support it, and we will see that over time. More maps, new game modes, and consistent cosmetics need to be at the forefront of Velan Studios’ mind when developing for it. While I enjoy the maps here, six maps are not nearly enough to carry Knockout City into the future.
The thing is, I think they cannot drip feed content. Instead, they need to be as aggressive as possible by constantly reminding people that the game exists. Think Fortnite’s consistent big drops — without crunch and within reason, of course. Obviously, Velan is not anywhere as big as an Epic Games, but they need to keep the pedal to the metal and try to put out updates that people can look forward to at the very least every couple of months. A content drop should be something like one or two maps, a slew of new purchasable cosmetics, and something on the side like a reference to another EA franchise. It is doable and merely up to how much EA and Velan want to push Knockout City. Knockout City could be the premier stop for an experience you are not seeing from anyone else if they decide to follow this course. This will help make both casuals and diehard competitors flock to the game repeatedly.
With the right moves and attitude, Knockout City could be one of the best multiplayer games not just in 2021, but for years to come.