At a time when Sport simulations are focusing on licensed players, accurate physics and photo-realistic recreations of stadiums, Danish developer Game Swing's Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure
chooses to take a completely different path. Focusing purely on fun, fast and fluid gameplay that is highly accessible, can this unusual take on a well known sport really hit the spot?
For those that aren't fluent in Danish, Stikbold!
is the Danish word for Dodgeball and that is exactly what the game is about. The title takes the rules of dodgeball and boils them down to their simplest parts, players must grab the ball, or whatever other objects are available to them, and throw them at their opponents in order to knock them out. One hit isn't enough to knock out you or your opponents, with the first dazing a character, causing stars to spin around their heads to show they're vulnerable of being eliminated with another direct hit. Once this happens it's time to take cover or dive out of the way of any more shots coming your way. A well timed dive into an incoming shot will allow you to catch the ball and mount a quick counter-attack, but this is a tricky manoeuvre that can often leave you vulnerable if not timed well enough.
The gameplay is simple to learn, but with a good mixture of subtle details that help to keep players on their toes. Mechanically, the game plays very similarly to a twin stick shooter -- one stick controls character movement while the other allows you to aim in a desired direction. The right trigger is used to throw the ball, quick taps allowing for short but weaker throws while holding down the button will let you charge up the power of the shot. Charged shots are good for long distances and can even be curled in mid-air by tweaking the right stick after the ball has left your hand, although the downside of these more powerful shots is that they may ricochet into other members of your team or straight back into yourself. The left trigger can be used to dive out of the way of incoming shots; this is your main way of avoiding being hit, but it also comes with its own drawbacks. It takes a moment for your character to get back on their feet, leaving them open to being hit.
Whereas most sports games would be happy to give players a simple career mode or league type format, Stikbold!
takes players on an offbeat journey as Björn and Jerome, two pro dodgeball players who are attempting to rescue a fellow dodgeball player, Heidi, who has been kidnapped by the Devil. Despite Heidi and her team-mate being their only real competition in the upcoming dodgeball tournament, Björn and Jerome decide that winning by default isn't a true victory and thus begin tracking down the Lord of Darkness. Their journey takes them across Beaches, an Oil Rig and, eventually, into the bowels of Hell, with each new area introducing new obstacles to avoid or use to your advantage. Huge waves sweep across the beach, stunning anyone who is caught in their way and bringing in jellyfish that can be used as ammunition. Anti-whaling activists clamber over the oil rig, creating confusion and havoc, while lava spills and falling stalactites hinder your attempts to thwart the devil once you reach the fiery underworld.
While each area adds its own unique charm, there are only five playable arenas and each are used a couple of times, albeit for different challenges. There are standard dodgeball matches where defeating the opposing team is enough to progress, as well as off-the-wall boss battles against camper vans and giant white whales. Each level also has three optional objectives that task players with completing extra tasks, ranging from hitting an opponent with a curling shot, detonating a box of TNT next to an activist, or completing a round without taking any hits. These additional objectives and boss fights help to keep the game interesting and offer a unique set of challenges.
Throughout their adventure, Björn is reminded that "no one is a team alone!", a fact that isn't only a good life lesson but a subtle hint that the game is best played with a real partner. The AI of your computer controlled team-mate can be far from intelligent, getting stuck behind pieces of the environment and running into the various hazards on the level. This can then leave you open and vulnerable to your opponents, either forcing you to attempt to revive your inept partner or continue the level at a distinct disadvantage. This makes some of the later levels very challenging indeed and you're often left feeling that the failure was out of your hands.
As well as the story mode, Stikbold!
also features a quick match mode that allows up to four players to compete in team and free-for-all matches in local multiplayer. Players can add AI-controlled bots to bring the total number of opponents to six and adjust their difficulty levels in order to provide a decent level of challenge. The multiplayer aspect of the game plays just like the story mode and is highly enjoyable with a group of friends, or just with a selection of bots. One added feature in multiplayer is that a player still has an opportunity to effect the outcome of a match once they have been knocked out. Stikbold
gives eliminated players the control over an array of different environmental hazards. This added control over the events can be used to hinder the progress of other players that may be doing too well, or just to take out your revenge on the person that knocked you out in the first place. Curiously, there are no options for online multiplayer despite the fact that the game is ideally suited towards this. If you wish to play with your friends then you will have to clear some space on the couch and invite them over.
In a change from what many would see as being the regular way of distributing achievements, Stikbold!
doesn't reward players simply for completing each of the various levels. Instead, all of the additional objectives need to be completed for each level in order to unlock their attached achievement. To fit in with the more outlandish tone of the game, certain achievements will require a little more luck, or preparation, in order to unlock. “Keep it Reel” and “Ridiculous Fishing” both require players to use the fishing rod hazard during a multiplayer match. The first requires the catching of a swan, another of the player controlled hazards, while the second requires a player to be pulled in front of the van. “Untouchable” and “Critical Hit” may be the two achievements that require the most patience to unlock and they require players to catch 100 incoming shots and deliver 20 critical hits, or stingers, respectively.
may not be as serious as the typical sports title to which we have become accustomed, but the game is easy to pick up and provides equal amounts of challenge, fun and off-the-wall ridiculousness. The lack of online multiplayer seems like a major oversight from the developer and the short story mode and limited numbers of stages might put players off who are looking for something to play by themselves for an extended period of time. However, if you get a few friends together, Stikbold!
becomes the ideal party game that is just a good bit of fun.
- Easily accessible gameplay
- Story mode is quirky and challenging
- Great fun in multiplayer
- Poor AI team-mate in story mode
- Limited number of stages
- No online multiplayer
The reviewer spent approximately 10 hours throwing, dodging, and getting hit by red balls. He unlocked 15 of the game's 26 available achievements. An Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.