After getting stuck into a lengthy multiplayer session of Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure, it seems almost absurd that it has taken this long for someone to create a game based on this easy-to-grasp sport. With the boldly colourful aesthetic and blocky characters packing enough whimsy to shunt the world off of its axis alongside controls and game mechanics that can be picked up within seconds of playing, it’s clear that Danish developer Game Swing has fashioned a highly accessible sporting yarn that everybody can enjoy.
Mechanically speaking, Stikbold is as simple and easy to pick up as they come. Viewed from a slanted third-person perspective, the goal is to eliminate the other team by flinging a ball towards them at speed with the intention of knocking them flat on their collective bums, with a total wipeout of the opposing team scoring one of three total points needed in order to win the game. When it comes to the act, knocking out a member of the opposite team is actually a two-step process since your first strike will just stun them and make them vulnerable, while it’s the second attack that puts them down properly.
If any of your team has been knocked down, you can revive them by simply standing over the fallen party for a few seconds until they get back up again. Of course, those few seconds that you spend doing this also makes you vulnerable and because you’re the last person on the team, you need to very carefully consider the best time to bring your downed comrade back into the game lest your opponents turn one eliminated player into two.
Something else that Stikbold makes you consider is the notion of momentum and distance. While shooting the ball in any given direction is accomplished by pressing the R2 button and then using the right analogue stick to specify the direction that you want the ball to travel in, the distance that ball will travel is entirely dependent on the power that you put behind it. Lightly tapping the button for example will shoot the ball out at a standard speed, while holding down the button and waiting for power bar to flash at just the right time will shoot a power shot that doesn’t lessen its momentum until it hits something. It’s a great little system that places a real premium on timing as much as it does on accuracy.
As much as Stikbold is all about making that perfect shot, then so too is it also about mastering the virtues of evasion and shot interception as well. In the case of both, a quick tap of the L2 button will send your character into an exaggerated running dive, which while great at getting you out of harm’s way and catching incoming projectiles, must be used carefully because each time you make a dive you spend a second getting up and thus make yourself temporarily vulnerable to attack as a result.
If you do happen to find yourself without the ball, your options aren’t as limited as you might first expect. While evading is certainly recommended to avoid getting tagged, you can actually punch your opponent, which not only forces them to drop said ball but also serves to knock them a fair distance away too. Feeding into the punch mechanic are the stages themselves which aside from being colourful and crammed full of whimsy, are each home to a number of different environmental hazards such as crashing waves on a beach to knock enemies into or bee hives that can be hurled at the opposing team to stun them. If there’s one complaint to be had here, it would be that there needs to be more levels available, since the total of five that ship with the game feels a little on the slim side.
Ostensibly then, Stikbold is a game that is both fun and wants you, the player, to have fun with it and nowhere is this embrace of accessibility more apparent than in Stikbold’s wonderfully conceived story mode, where humour and challenge can be found in glorious unison alongside a variety of face-smacking dodgeball related activities. Resisting the notion to play the story mode as some sort of dull, po-faced ‘career’ mode, the developer has instead fashioned a ludicrously whimsical set of scenarios that involves all sorts of madness from pushing hippies in front of speeding camper vans to knocking out a legion of lifeguards who are trying to blow up a shark inflatable for some utterly random reason.
Such abject wackiness also serves a deeper purpose mechanically too, as each mission in story mode has three different sub-objectives for you to accomplish. Ranging from playing dodgeball with three crabs attached to your character, to more technical feats such as avoiding damage for an entire round, completing all these challenges doesn’t just give you a nice sense of achievement but also new characters to play with in multiplayer and a nice shiny PlayStation Trophy to boot. Worth noting especially is that you don’t have to do all the bonus objectives in one go, allowing you to focus on completing any that you may have missed.
What undercuts these objectives a little though is if you happen to be attempting them in single-player without the aid of a flesh and blood partner. Indeed, the AI of your CPU teammate can sometimes prove to be a little lacking as they show an alarming affinity to running into whatever hazards are on a level and thus forcing you to revive them as a result. To say that this is annoying when you’re trying to nail a ‘don’t get hit once’ challenge, would be quite the understatement indeed.
On the upside, spicing things up the story mode in a more positive way are the challenge encounters which effectively double up as Stikbold’s boss fights. Challenging and entertaining, these special levels do a great job of keeping the story mode interesting while also providing an opportunity for players to test their skills against a variety of different foes. Sure enough, Stikbold’s story mode can be completed in a single sitting but it’s funny, well-structured and above all else does a great job of honing your skills for the real meat of the game: multiplayer.
Frequently going into the early hours of the morning, multiplayer sessions on Stikbold are magnificent things; the innately simplistic appeal of the game lending itself brilliantly to not just seasoned players but also newcomers to the game and gaming in general. Honestly, get some mates around (you can make up the numbers with CPU controlled folks if you need to), get the drinks flowing and just get playing – Stikbold is the new local multiplayer dodgeball fix that you never knew you wanted.
And sadly, in the presence of your friends in the same room is the only way that you can play Stikbold in multiplayer because, somewhat bafflingly, there isn’t support for any kind of online multiplayer functionality. Given the sheer entertainment that literally oozes out of every digital pore, this comes across as an egregious oversight to say the least and is terribly disappointing indeed.
This is not your average take on dodgeball then and that’s the thing; you don’t need to like or enjoy the sport of dodgeball to enjoy Stikbold. This is a game that stands very much on its own sense of character and merit long since after the delightful sugar rush of its visual aesthetic has subsided, revealing the highly responsive controls that endure and underscore the game’s appeal. It’s just a crying shame that as of right now you cannot share Stikbold’s almost boundless fun with anyone else outside of your living room.