Knockout City hands-on preview

Hands-On With Knockout City, the Multiplayer Dodgeball Game From the Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit Developers

For their debut title, Velan Studios partnered with Nintendo to bring Mario Kart into your home with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Their next game is a completely original vision, being published under the EA Originals banner. Knockout City takes dodgeball and makes it a little bit more extreme, while cultivating unique gameplay ideas that rely more on timing than precision aim. We had the opportunity to go hands on with the upcoming game to play with these particular mechanics and get a sense of why Knockout City is so special.

Knockout City Preview – If You Can Dodge a Wrench, You Can Dodge a Ball

Knockout City may look like a third person shooter at a glance, but it actually has a lot more in common with fighting games and brawlers. The team-based dodgeball title sees players charging up throws, timing catches, using teammates as balls, and even tossing opponents off the map in order to score points and win. You won’t have to worry about pinpoint accuracy, because Knockout City auto-targets nearby enemies that are within your field of view. The key is paying attention to on-screen indicators to power up your throws and either dodge or catch incoming balls.

This is a lot more than just high-school dodgeball though. Movement around each level is key. Positioning is just as important as timing, making sure you are in good places to knock your enemies out (and avoid being knocked out yourself). There will be five levels right at launch, and we got to play around in three of them, each with unique architecture that change up how you have to approach the game. And that’s even depending on which game mode you are playing.

We had the opportunity to spend a few hours with three game modes. Diamond Dash is a kind of “kill confirmed” (or rather “knockout confirmed”) mode, where knocked out players drop three Diamonds that can be grabbed to score points. Ball-Up Brawl exclusively uses teammates as balls, and won’t spawn any dodgeballs in the level. And Team KO is a more traditional “deathmatch” with no additional objectives or modifiers.

Knockout City hands-on preview

Each mode felt sufficiently different and required varying strategies to succeed in. In Ball-Up Brawl, do you “be the ball,” or do you use your teammates? Risk being thrown off the edge by an opponent to try to score the KO, or be the expert in using fake-out throws to mess with their timing? In Team KO, rushing for special dodgeballs like the Moon Ball, Bomb Ball, or Cage Ball, can give you an advantage, but they’ll also make you an easy target. And if your enemy times their catch right, they can turn that power-up back around on you. Similarly in Diamond Dash, rushing for Diamonds will give you score, but it makes you a predictable target and distracts you from timing a good catch.

Players are given two hearts before they get knocked out. Regular dodgeballs knockout a single heart, while using another player as a ball will result in an instant knockout, depleting both hearts. And charging up a player ball will create an overhead bomb move that can wipe out any opponents in the blast radius. You have to be careful though, because balling up leaves you vulnerable to the enemy team, who can use that to their advantage.

Gameplay and mechanics are consistent for all players. There aren’t any heroes with special abilities or unique traits or moves that can differentiate individual players. When you step into the Knockout City dodgebrawl arena, you know exactly what every other player there is capable of. The special dodgeballs add a little variety to things, but again, every player can grab one. It keeps matches on a completely even playing field and never feels like an opponent has an advantage based on any specific special abilities. It means Velan won’t have to spend time balancing the meta of the game and can focus on making new content in the future; maps, cosmetics, and game modes to really expand what it has to offer.

The fast-paced gameplay in Knockout City is really easy to pick up and get the hang of. Picking up balls, throwing balls, and catching balls, as well as navigating around each level is simple enough. The blend between third-person shooter mechanics and the timing nature of fighting games and brawlers is a brilliant mixture that feels unique, but not at all difficult to grasp. But there are some tricks and tactics that players can learn over time, including better timing, positioning, and even curving the ball around objects with a spin. This easy path to entry and focus on team play dynamics makes Knockout City feel immediately accessible and fun, with a lot of depth lurking behind its relatively simple surface. But satisfying dodgebrawl gameplay isn’t the only thing that will keep players coming back.

Knockout City Preview – Dodge Balls and Look Good Doing It

Velan Studios knows what players want in a multiplayer game, and that’s a suite of cool cosmetics to earn and show off. With 17 customizable slots for cosmetics, including everything from player looks to emotes to victory and loss poses—plus three “cosmetic loadouts” so you can make a few different combinations—players are encouraged to bring their own unique selves to the dodgeball battlefield. Any earnable (or purchasable) item is entirely cosmetic and will not have any impact on gameplay.

And those characters and cosmetics are all super stylish. There’s an almost Fortnite-like vibe to the visuals, and the announcer (who is broadcasting from the moon, for some reason) keeps these upbeat, energetic, and fun. There are also voice overs for many aspects of the menu, which communicate essential information like the aforementioned cosmetics not having any impact on gameplay. In many ways, the style reminds me a bit of Destruction AllStars, in a very good way. It’s not exactly the same, but it gives off that same energy that keeps the meter at 11 throughout the time you’re playing.

Knockout City hands-on preview

Nine-week long seasons will feature a battle pass of sorts; 100 levels of exclusive cosmetics to earn that will be randomly distributed throughout the ladder for each player. And best of all? It’s entirely free. No need to pay to access the battle pass, and no separate free and paid tiers. Also, absolutely no loot boxes. The rotating cosmetics in the store can be purchased with in-game earnable currency as well as premium currencies.

The free seasons will also bring a bunch of new features, from additional levels and modes to limited-time events. Velan isn’t talking about what future seasons will have on the table, but at launch Knockout City will have a free-play period, where the game will literally be entirely free for everyone to try for a limited time. If you want to continue playing once the trial period has ended, you’ll have to pay the small $19.99 entry fee, but it should allow players to get a good feel for the game early on without needing to gamble on parting with their hard-earned cash. Any progress made during the free-trial period will carry over should you decide to purchase it. Purchasing during the trial period will also entitle players to exclusive “early adopter” cosmetics that you can’t get anywhere else.

Knockout City hands-on preview

And what’s more, Knockout City will have full cross-platform play and progression on every platform. That’s PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC, (as well as PS5 and Xbox Series X|S with graphical enhancements via backwards compatibility) creating a veritable melting pot of players and the ability to play where you want. Couch play on your PS5 and then grab your Switch for some on-the-go Knockout City? Totally doable (as long as you own the game on both platforms).

Knockout City is coming May 21st, 2021, and will be free to try for a limited amount of time. The first beta is happening this weekend on February 20-21 on PC only (via Origin and Steam). Stay tuned for future announcements about any additional betas as well as the launch trial period later this year.