I never got to play Dodge Ball in school. As a child of the 80s every TV show and cartoon depicted this vicious sport as a rite of passage for the youth. The closest equivalent I had was scatter but it just wasn’t the same. I had to live my Dodge Ball dreams through Super Dodge Ball. SDB was a surprise rental that I had no expectations of. But in the end I liked the game so much I later went out and bought it. This is an excellent game worth a purchase for those seeking something different.
Super Dodge Ball was originally released in the arcade in 1987. The NES port would follow 2 years later but offered many new features, making it the superior game. It’s a little light on content in this day and age but what is there will still provide a good time for a few hours.
More than anything else Super Dodge Ball captures the sheer fun of smacking an unsuspecting opponent in the face. Particularly brutal hits are exaggerated in their animation and hilarious to watch. It isn’t uncommon to see someone fly twenty feet in the air after taking a ball to the head. The really mean ones send them flying across both sides of the screen! Defeated opponents literally ascend to heaven as an angel which, uh, makes you a murderer.
The arcade game was fun if a bit simple. Technos have gone a long way toward rectifying that. Prior to each match you can rearrange your teammates on the field. All of your teammates have individual stats and it is important to take into account terrain and throwing power. Weaker team members should be placed on the sideline later on as your opponents grow stronger. More importantly each has a special move. These attacks are simple to activate and are the key to ending each match as soon as possible. The effects are varied: some turn the ball into a missile that can blow through multiple opponents while others change direction mid throw to throw them off. As powerful as they are the special throws aren’t invincible and can be caught, keeping the balance even.
Matches can end quickly or drag on depending on a number of factors such as environment, player tenacity and skill. The field in each country is different and affects the match in different ways. The dirt in Africa makes it harder to run and build up speed, which changes the timing of your special moves. The players in Russia and India tend to catch your throws more often, meaning you’ll have to psych them out. Its little factors like these that make the single player mode so much fun.
The only drawback is that I wish there were more. After you are done with the short World Cup you are left with Vs Mode and Bean Ball mode. Two-player competitive is cool since you can choose any of the nine teams and check out their attacks. Bean Ball is a school yard free for all that is fun once or twice but the novelty wears of. A few more teams would have made this truly amazing.
While it doesn’t have the large sprites and playable roster of its arcade big brother the NES version does improve on it presentation wise. In the arcade teams were composed of one large character and three smaller ones. It looked really stupid to be frank. The home version has everyone the same size in that distinct Kunio style for consistency. More importantly is thematic music appropriate for each country you visit. It really helps sell the idea of a world tour even more and is great.
To appreciate Super Dodge Ball you’ll have to accept its technical shortcomings though. This has some of the worst sprite flickering on the NES. Technos are pushing the NES pretty hard to realize the game accurately and it shows. The flickering goes beyond mere blinking with characters straight up disappearing at times. Any time there are six characters or more on screen the game buckles. The flip side to this is that the majority of the game you won’t see it. In most cases you will only see half of the field where performance is fine. It is when everyone is bunched up on one side that it devolves into a mess that can ruin your timing. It sucks, no doubt, but not enough to ruin the game.
I’m happy to say that Super Dodge Ball has held up after all these years. It may appear simple on the surface but there is plenty of depth to its gameplay. This could have been very dull in execution (like the arcade) but instead is fully fleshed out and a worthy purchase.