Review: Super Dodgeball Brawlers is for the fans (that’s a good thing)

Infendo

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Thanks to a GameStop gift card for a recent birthday, I was able to scoot down to the local store and buy up a copy of one of my more anticipated titles of 2008, Super Dodgeball Brawlers. I’m glad I did, but then again I’ve always been a fan of Kunio-Kun.

Like River City Ransom, Double Dragon, Nintendo World Cup Soccer and any other number of Nekketsu High School-inspired (and Kunio-Kun) retro titles of yesteryear, the Dodge Ball franchise has held an amazing lock on my psyche for the past 20 years. When I dream, the characters are portrayed in the pseudo-human, big-headed, stocky-armed, stubby-legged caricatures of NHS. Seriously.

So when Super Dodge Ball Brawlers was announced for Japan in 2007, I prepared to buy my first import title ever. Luckily for my wallet and my sanity, the game was given a green card, and launched in the US last Tuesday. Was I impressed? Did the game accomplish the update it sought to provide? You know the drill. Follow me below decks to hear all about the good, bad and ugly (bruises and all), of Super Dodgeball Brawlers for the DS.

Before beginning the review, I made a pit stop to some of the other “professional” reviews from “serious gaming journalists.” The main complaint? Nothing new, NES-style graphics. Average score 63%.

In my book, a title in this series that does not have NES graphics, MIDI music and wonky controls is a failure. If that’s how the reviews are going so far, then this game is off to a great start. The Nekketsu series is a permanent 3/4 stars–no more, no less. True fans, IMO, revel in the glitches of River City Ransom; or the cheapness of an opponent that continues to attack you’re huffing and puffing fatigued players; or the ease of bicycle kick auto-goals in NWCS. If Dodgeball doesn’t have big, exaggerated weeping men when you lose, I’m giving it a pass.

Luckily for me, Super Dodgeball Brawlers has all of this stuff and more–but for a few parts of the game there’s almost too much going on.

First, the negatives. I didn’t like the punching and kicking. Call me an old fashioned traditionalist in that regard, that’s ok, but I still didn’t think it fit in well with the main game. The free-for-all brawl option? Bring it on. Reminded me of a good ol’ fistfight on the elementary school playground, but I disabled this option in the tournament mode. Same goes for the random objects, delivered from the sky a la Smash Bros Brawl. Braining some slippery Icelandic guy with a soda machine is cool, but in small doses. The countdown bombs are also fun, but I still found myself turning off the objects setting for 50% of my matches. Ditto on the snowmen.

Another quibble surfaced when an opponent held the ball for a long time on their end. It becomes hard to know where your players are off the screen when this happens. Those countdown bombs? Yeah, they REALLY suck when they’re on your side and you can;t see where your players are.
Other sites put the graphics as a negative. I scratched my head at this, but after reading ars technica’s awesome expose on what the video game review process is all about these days, I understood it to mean Aksys probably didn’t pay anyone off with an exclusive review or other obscene press kit freebies (sorry for that rant/aside link, but the article really is pretty sickening, and is telling of what the Old Guard of publishers, journalists and other dinosaurs will do to keep their hold on the industry. good riddance).

Anyway, the graphics are just fine. They’re cartoony, updated just enough, and there’s no slowdown or disappearing players like there was in the NES version. Defeated players still turn into little angels when they lose all their health, and certain special attacks still send players flying around the world when they connect. To introduce any more realism into this series would defeat the purpose. It’s not how this game looks that’s so fun, it’s the outrageousness of it all that keeps fans coming back for more. If you think the ball’s trajectory is poor because it doesn’t have real-time physics, you need to go stab yourself in the jaw.

And peaking of specials, there are plenty. And plenty of them are ridiculous, like the panda attack. And some suck, but you’d be expecting that too if you knew a thing or two about the series. Watching the ball turn into a UFO and slowly meander around the court, missing everyone, is annoying but fun–and sometimes it even connects for a few damage points. If you’re playing a human opponent, feel free to rub it in, in true Dodgeball style.

Another of the new additions I enjoyed was the experience and customization system. Like an RPG contained in a 20×20 ft. box, Super Dodgeball Brawlers allows you to buy upgrades for your men between matches from a storefront right out of River City. You also gain experience and money depending on how well you dispatched the Japanese, Russians or Kenyans (there’s two full screens of teams, each with their own ups and downs). After a while, with a few experience upgrades and items, you really begin to see a change in your team (especially with jumping).

If there’s one downer I do agree with it’s the game’s speed. Before you get upgrades, your guys are pretty slow (depending on starting team), and it can make the easier first round matches drag, just a little. I heard the US version was sped up a bit, compared to the Japanese one, so I can only imagine the geriatric speed at which our Asian cousins across the Pacific are dodging and weaving at the moment.

Wrapping up, there’s really nothing more to say about this title other than it’s a safe one. If you’re a fan of this series (or any of the related games), you have this already. If you aren’t, or are new to them, I strongly suggest a rent before you buy strategy. It’s good, but it may need to grow on you. It could be that I grew up with NHS in the late 80’s, and I’m wearing rose-colored glasses, and that’s why I like them so much, so be warned.

Games are quick, perfect for a portable session on the subway, and the skill level is adjustable (maybe they should call is a cheapness meter). Replay value is also there, especially with the 8-person, one cartridge brawl option.

Gamers looking for uncanny valley characters and realistic headshots should stay away, but if you’re expecting that kind of game from a Dodgeball title, I’m left to wonder if you’ve had one too many balls to the head to begin with. Yeah, I just said balls to the head.

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