Imagine a world where nothing else matters besides… dodgeball! This is the world that Brazilian indie studio Pocket Trap introduces to us in Dodgeball Academia, a role-playing game that has been released straight into the Game Pass catalogue this week.
Yes, a role-playing game. This is a full-fledged RPG where you level up your character, customize your party, complete quests, earn new skills, and buy new equipment — all while exploring a dodgeball academy.
This is an odd combination on paper, that’s for sure. But how does it actually translate in-game?
You are Otto, a boy who is about to start his first day at the dodgeball academy while always avoiding to mention his past, limiting his answers by saying he was transferred from another school. His sole objective is to become the ultimate dodgeball champion, and the first step to do so happens during the introductory lecture, when students get in touch with the legendary dodgeball and awaken their inner powers.
Otto then has to assemble a team of three to be formally registered in the academy. Mina is the first one to join, a relentless player that constantly sends his opponents to the infirmary. When no one else seems interested in joining the “new kid”, Otto decides to register Balloony, his first friend in the academy who does not like to engage in dodgeball matches.
Mina and Balloony are just two of the students who will join your party throughout the game’s eight episodes. Each one of them has different skills and traits — some have electric powers and can counter dodgeballs, while others have healing powers and attempt to catch the balls instead.
The story follows a traditional RPG structure while being adapted to the whole dodgeball theme, which helps to keep things fresh. There is a rival that keeps getting beaten by you, as well as a rival that secures the spot for the strongest player in the academy. The academy staff also has a role in the story, from the lunch lady and the librarian to the professors and the principal.
You can focus solely on the main quest if you wish, which will slowly reveal Otto’s past as well as other characters’ backgrounds — but there is also a couple of sidequests per episode that are both fun and essential if you wish to level up and earn more money to grab better equipment.
The writing has a nice blend of silliness and clever jokes. Sometimes you will be fighting over pineapples on pizzas, while on other occasions the game will poke fun at the free market economy and throw in some Cubism-related jokes.
Overall, the writing is entertaining enough to keep us engaged between the fast-paced dodgeball matches that happen throughout the story, offering a nice balance between the two.
Gotta Dodge ‘Em All!
Dodgeball Academia is surprisingly fast-paced for an RPG. It starts pretty simply: one-on-one matches where you can grab the ball and throw it with X. You can also catch the ball as Otto by pressing B at the right moment or choose to dodge the ball by moving the left stick.
Things start to get more intense when your party grows. You can have up to three players on your team at once, and at some points, in the story, you are up against an even higher amount of enemies. You control only one character, but you can freely switch between them by pressing RT.
As you advance through the story you will learn new skills. Otto, for example, can charge his attack by holding X and release a Hadouken-like throw that burns his opponents. As you level up, this attack will become even more powerful while charging even faster.
Each party member has a different set of skills. While Otto has a fire-based attack, Mina’s charged attack deals electric damage. Balloony, on the other hand, can heal your party in the middle of the fight. Mina also differs from Otto since she cannot grab incoming balls — instead, you can press B to counter and send the ball back to the opponent. Suneko can also counter, but she demands you to hold the button in advance instead of pressing it at the right time.
You will also unlock “Balltimate” moves. When the ultimate gauge is full you can press LT to perform a devastating move that can turn the match in your favour. Each character has a different move, so experimenting with them is vital.
While Dodgeball Academia is obviously very different since, well, it is not based around collecting monsters, you can still notice some Pokémon references. While walking around the academy some students might challenge you to a match, including an exclamation mark above their heads and a familiar battle theme. There is even an infirmary where you can heal your party, resembling a lot of the famous Pokémon Centers.
The game’s difficulty depends on how well you get used to the fast-paced combat. Luckily, if you find the game too easy or too challenging, you can freely turn the difficulty up or down at any time, even during the battle — but we will expand on this feature later on.
After you unlock the infirmary your party’s HP will not be refilled after each battle, which will demand the use of items or a clever switching between characters. You can buy items in different shops located in the academy to help you in between battles.
You can also buy equipment, as well as finding them in chests scattered around the map. Each character can equip up to two pieces of gear, raising strength, defense, or allowing you to heal yourself after dealing damage, for example.
And if you enjoy the combat, good news: the game has a local versus mode in which you can battle your friends in customized matches. You can select the number of players, the court, and even activate some obstacles like cars and tall grass.
Playing and Learning
One of the best things to happen during the past decade is how games started to support a plethora of different languages — from AAA blockbusters to small passionate projects, it has become common to see a decent amount of options when choosing a game’s language.
It is no different with Dodgeball Academia. The game supports eight languages, including German, Russian, and, of course, Brazilian Portuguese. That means there are more languages supported than there are people working at Pocket Trap, which is no small feat.
But the studio went the extra mile and introduced something called “Learner Mode”. By activating this option in the Language Settings you can instantly toggle between different languages — both during normal gameplay and cutscenes. If you are playing the game in English, for example, and you are taking Japanese classes (or intend to), you can toggle between both languages by simply pressing the View button + LT/RT. This is a fantastic and innovative way to learn new words and sentences in different languages.
Pocket Trap also did an amazing job by letting us customize the game’s difficulty. Instead of straight-up giving us the traditional difficulty options (Easy, Normal and Hard), Dodgeball Academia provides the players two different sliders: one for “Damake Taken” and another for “Damage Dealt”.
Both sliders start at 100%, which is how the game is intended to be played. But if you are having a hard time or want a more challenging experience, you can customize the sliders to take or deal more or less damage. You can even choose to take no damage at all while doing 4x more damage, becoming invincible.
Dodgeball and RPG is an odd combination that works surprisingly well in Dodgeball Academia — all thanks to its fast-paced combat and entertaining writing. You will find yourself giggling at times right before sweating your way through a chaotic match, while the games’ accessibility settings let you play it exactly the way you want to. To top things off, Dodgeball Academia offers a rare local versus mode, becoming a good candidate for those good old LAN parties.