Did you know Ubisoft just published a cute top-down dodgeball game with cross-play multiplayer? Did you even hear it was coming in the last year or so? Chances are you didn’t, marketing and comunication around this game has been… odd, to say the least. But OddBallers has arrived, and after spending a handful of hours on it, I’m ready to share my experience. This is the XboxEra review for Game Swing’s ballin’ new title, OddBallers.
A ballsy move
As mentioned, the road up until here was a bizarre one. A sequel of sorts to 2016’s Stikbold! A Dodge Ball Adventure, OddBallers has been in the Steam database since 2019, with alphas and betas there throughout 2020. The game seemed close to release and about to hit PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Stadia, but the game has entered a state of alternating radio silences and lengthy delays. Stadia died in the meantime, the listing was removed from Steam in favour of Ubisoft’s own launcher and Epic Game Store, an Amazon Luna version was thrown into the mix, alongside native Xbox Series X|S versions that weren’t even advertised on the official website. And with only minor mentions of the game coming, it was almost a shadowdrop to see OddBallers finally drop on the 26th of January 2023, virtually at the same time as the similarly unexpected launch of the much applauded Hi-Fi Rush. Eerily similar to Ubisoft’s free-to-play title from last year, Roller Champions, which also entered a state of “limbo” after seemingly polished betas back around 2019-2020.
A Ubisoft game flying under the radar is certainly an oddity, so what is it the French publisher is hiding? Is it a tax write-off of sorts? Was this done to avoid spending more money on an already too expensive project? Was this something related to hitting some financial dates? A broken mess of a game that they’d rather push out silently? All I know is that, at the very least, it isn’t the last option. OddBallers is a mechanically simple but fairly polished title – I guess it really had to be, after entering alpha about three years ago. And, frankly – it’s pretty fun, despite some shortcomings.
On paper, the gameplay is simple but effective. Players control cartoonish characters on a similarly themed arena, trying to hunt down balls and other tools of destruction, be it lawnmowers, boxes, bombs or… chicken. While some items can only be pushed around and activated, balls and smaller objects can be thrown by holding the B button to decide its power while aiming towards an opponent, perhaps even using rebounds. Players can move around, dodge, with a well-timed dodge even activating a parry against otherwise dangerous hits. At its core, it’s a cute little dodgeballing game with a satisfying throwing mechanic, to play against the AI, your friends in local or in online multiplayer across all platforms via cross-play.
There’s also a distinct party game flavour to OddBallers however, as the arenas are anything but flat. Bombs, traps, animals roaming and more make the matches chaotic as hell at times, and it’s easy to get killed by many things that aren’t balls thrown by opponents. There’s also a vast variety of game modes, ranging from a classing Last Man Standing, all the way to multiple variations of football, with team-based events and even a proper boss battle against a superstrong enemy popping up in the random selection of game modes. Every once in a while, the game will also let players vote for a mutator, changing some rules on the fly such as making every hit instantly fatal or disabling dodges. With most game modes featuring several variations and locales, based on three different locations the host can choose to have the players tackle in the current run, it’s easy to play for hours and still find new game modes or yet unseen variations of them.
There’s no campaign to speak of in OddBallers. Whether the players are AI opponents (in 3 difficulties), your couch co-op buddies or online opponents, they first meet up in a little playable lobby where they can customize their look and mess around a bit, throwing vegetables and other items at each other before the actual match starts. A run consists of a series of randomly selected minigames, with points usually assigned to the winner and the second place out of the 4 or 6-player group competing. Whoever reaches the selected matchpoint score first has the chance to bring home the crown in the next event. No Mario Party-esque board games, it’s all automated, but the passage from one mode to another happens via funny little cutscenes showing the characters running from one door to another, behind which the next challenge lies.
The game is fun, but it’s not without flaws. While the core gameplay is well-made, with even fun little touches like two dodgeballs hitting each other causing an explosion and both flying away at a lethal high speed, there’s a few technical shortcomings hampering the experience right now. Various freezes hamper the moment-to-moment gameplay even when playing against the AI in local, and the way the bodies of characters twist and turn is rather glitchy. But even more worryingly, on these launch days it’s very difficult to find players online, and sometimes even to connect to the game’s servers. Frequent log-in failures, the matchmaking often doesn’t find players (unclear if it’s because of a low playerbase or something else), and even the instant replays showing the final “kill” of each match is often completely borked, showing animations and events completely unrelated to what went down on the field. There’s some things to iron out for sure.
Organizing a ball
It can’t be a multiplayer-focused title without an in-game shop of clothes, emotes and so on, usable then on customizable characters down to each individual colour. Players can even use and customize Ubisoft’s iconic Rabbids as playable characters! As of now, everything can be bought with in-game credits only, that are obtained via playing and unlocking objectives, but who knows if that’s gonna change. So far, the game doesn’t seem to make a splash in terms of playerbase, and it’s certainly a shame – and with a “20 bucks” launch price, one can see why people aren’t rushing towards an unknown entity. At its core, OddBallers is a fun game with an engaging gameplay loop and good enough variety to last for a while, but with little marketing, a seemingly nigh non-existent playerbase and some technical woes it’s hard to recommend this one just yet, unless you’re guaranteed have a group of friends to play with.
Xbox Series X
- Exciting core gameplay
- Plenty of modes
- Customizeable rules
- Cross-play is in
- A bit janky
- Not many players already or faulty matchmaking
- Could have used a proper single player campaign