There's so much to like about the cheerful, colourful RPG that is Dodgeball Academia. You play as Otto, a determined young man who enrols in a prestigious dodgeball institution, with ambitions of becoming the best of the best. Everything at the academy revolves around the cartoonishly violent sport, and over the course of the game, you'll build a team, go on crazy campus-based adventures, and compete in big tournament matches.
It's a straightforward story but it's told with charm. The plot itself is spread across a number of 'episodes' — each of which introduce new characters and gameplay elements, particularly early on. It takes around 12 hours to complete Dodgeball Academia, but a fun cast and snappy writing give the game an enjoyably brisk pace.
Climbing the school's ranks isn't easy, though. While Dodgeball Academia might look like an all-ages anime on the surface, it's actually very challenging at times. Its dodgeball battle system demands quick reflexes and, every so often, some degree of trial and error. That said, there are difficulty modifiers that you can tweak to your liking, adjusting both outgoing and incoming damage values. It's a thoughtful inclusion, and ensures that anyone can get in on the action (and avoid potential frustration courtesy of some wicked difficulty spikes).
In any case, battles are a huge part of the experience. You take to small dodgeball courts with your chosen team, each member boasting their own perks and special moves. Otto, for example, can hurl fiery dodgeballs that burn his opponents, causing consecutive damage. As characters level up, they unlock more and more impressive abilities, and by the end of the story, you'll have some seriously stacked party members.
Victory hinges on both attack and defence. Basically, timing is everything — whether you're throwing a ball at an especially agile opponent, or you're catching a sphere that's speeding towards your face. Battles are easy to understand, but hard to master, and the title is constantly dropping new gameplay quirks into the mix. Be it opposing players who can throw balls in spiral arcs, or courts that are covered in slippery ice, there's almost always something new to watch out for, and this variety keep matches feeling fresh until the credits roll.
In terms of RPG mechanics, Dodgeball Academia is fairly straightforward. Your teammates are defined by how much health they have, alongside three core stats in strength, agility, and technique. Equipment also plays a part, with accessories that can bolster different attributes, allowing you to lean further into a character's specific style of play. Still, beefing up your party is pretty addictive, and when combined with the game's rewarding learning curve, actually putting the controller down can take some discipline.
As alluded, Dodgeball Academia is a lovely looking game. The 2D character designs are top notch, and overall, the art style really holds everything together — even in the menus, which are immaculate. The infectiously upbeat soundtrack is also deserving of a special mention.
It takes obvious cues from Pokémon and other genre classics, but Dodgeball Academia is a great little RPG in its own right. Packed with charm and boasting a unique dodgeball-based battle system, it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable journey to the top.