The Gameboy Advance might be my favorite system of all time. I was just old enough when it came out to be incredibly hyped up for it. I saved money for months and on launch day I bought myself an Indigo system along with a few games. There were reliable standards like Super Mario Advance and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, but the game that was a bit of a gamble was Dodge Ball Advance. I don’t remember what I had seen that made me pick that game up, but it ended up becoming one of my favorite games of all time.
When I first saw screenshots of Dodgeball Academia, I knew immediately that I’d love it. Not only does it have an art style that is a gorgeous mix of hand-drawn character models with 3D environments, but it looked like the gameplay would be just like Dodge Ball Advance!
Thanks to the publisher providing me with a copy of the game to check out, I’ve been able to tinker around with the first chapter of Dodgeball Academia, and I cannot recommend it to fans of the GBA enough. The core gameplay is familiar enough to feel good, and the bigger experience replicates the Mario sports handheld RPGs way better than Nintendo has since.
It’s a Dodgeballers' World
Before we get to gameplay, I want to share what little I know about the world of Dodgeball Academia so far. It’s a world not terribly different from our own, except that every aspect of the culture revolves around dodgeball, and also there are living balloons and sentient wolves and stuff. Okay, maybe it is pretty different from our world.
The game picks up with your character, Otto, receiving a recruitment letter inviting him to the famed Dodgeball Academia, a bordering school for the dodgeball elite that is built around a perpetually spinning dodgeball that is a relic from an ancient dodgeball war and grants students magic powers.
When Otto first arrives at the school he learns that its funding is dependent on an annual tournament. Impressive matches in this showcase prove to the government that the school is worth keeping around. Naturally, Otto wants in, and your first mission is to tour the school with a timid, tenured student named Balloony who has a balloon for a head while you look for other students to round out a three-man team.
A Silly, Straightforward Story
This game is goofy as heck. The character designs are goofy and fun, and the writing is right there with it. Most of the students in the school who aren’t part of the story have pretty similar, generic character models, but they all have something unique to say. Combine that with lovely, cinematic flyovers that introduce you to each area of the school, and the world feels really well realized.
The path you follow through the first chapter is very linear, guiding you around the school and from one dodgeball match to another. Even so, there were side quests to complete and optional matches to engage in. These all granted experience and often items, which made my characters more powerful in future matches.
Battling on the Courts
Which leads me to the matches. Screenshots would make you think the game played identically to Dodge Ball Advance, but there are a few differences. In the matches I’ve played so far, it seems like teams will always be made up of at most three players on the court at a time. In some matches knocked out players move behind their opponent’s side of the court. From there, they can snag stray balls and throw them at the other team's flank.
As the player, you only control one character at a time while the rest of your team kind of trails behind you. Three of the face buttons on the controller let you jump, catch, and throw the ball. Holding the stick in different directions as you throw changes the speed of the ball, though I don't have a good grasp on exactly how that works yet. Since the game has already introduced the concept of magic powers, I’m assuming that the fourth button will eventually allow for some cool special abilities.
A Serious Contender
I’ve not even put an hour into this game yet, but I can already tell that I am going to love Dodgeball Academia. Moving around the overworld and talking to NPCs reminds me of my favorite parts of Mario Golf and Tennis on the GBA, while the dodgeball matches are similar to enough to Dodge Ball Advance to have me super interested. Add on great writing, delightful, Cal Arts style character design, and an anime-as-it-gets plot and you’ve got me completely hooked. If you grew up with the GBA as I did, I think this game will be extremely “for you” as well.
Dodgeball Academia is hitting the courts on August 5th for Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and Windows. And hey, it looks like it's hitting Game Pass on day one, so it'll be free to check out for a lot of you!