The offline multiplayer renaissance continues with the release of Danish indie studio Game Swing's Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure. Originating from a concept prototyped at the Nordic Game Jam in 2013, the title is a jovial, wacky take on dodgeball – a sport bewilderingly lacking in video game interpretations. While it may be diminutive in size, Stikbold is big in personality, and its over-the-top gameplay and cheeky humour might just win you over.
The colourful, boxy graphics fit in well with the overall tone of the game, which has an almost childlike glee running through it. The short but sweet story mode tells a wonderfully absurd tale about Björn and Jerome preparing for the final of a Stikbold tournament. When their competitors show up and are kidnapped by the Devil, the dynamic duo venture out in search of their rivals, much to the disdain of their victory-obsessed coach.
You can play this mode solo with an AI companion or co-operatively with a friend, and it's a great way to learn the ropes. Stikbold sees up to three teams of two facing off in a circular arena, with the aim of knocking out the opposing players. Hit a player once and stars will appear above their head. You need to hit them again before the stars are gone to eliminate them from the round. The first team to win three rounds takes the match. The controls are just as straightforward as the rules, and the game does a decent job of telling you some more advanced techniques, such as arching the path of the ball.
It's a fast-paced and surprisingly tactical game; you need to be aware of where you and your teammate are, where your opponents are, and where the ball is at all times. Stikbold doesn't want you to think about things too seriously, however, so level-specific distractions and hazards appear in order to shake things up. While we found some of these to make things a little too chaotic sometimes, they can afford you an advantage; clever use of them can very quickly turn the match around. For example, the park level features a road that runs around the outer edge of the playing space, and a camper van will intermittently do a lap, instantly knocking out anyone standing in the way. Using your ability to nudge players around, it's not hard to envisage what's possible.
But if you want to play with stage hazards turned off, you can customise this before you begin a quick match. Quick match is Stikbold's main multiplayer mode and allows you to configure matches however you wish. You can play in 2v2 team matches, or free-for-all, with up to four human players and two AI bots. This is where the game really shines. It manages to find that sweet spot of being an absolute riot with the right crowd, yet you'll find yourself antagonising each other endlessly as you dodge, throw, and punch your way to victory. This is amplified by one of the game's nicest touches, in that it lets you contribute to the round even after you've been eliminated. In the gym level, for instance, you can invade the arena as a streaker, grabbing the ankles of an opponent, slowing them down. You're always involved in the action, even when you're out, meaning that you never have time to get bored.
Still, it may be the case that you do grow bored of Stikbold's slim package of modes and content, but while it would be very easy to point out what's missing or what should've been included, what is here is rather good indeed. If you often get a few buddies over for gaming nights, this modest and charming sports game will certainly bring a few laughs to proceedings.
Fresh and frantic, Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure is a pleasant surprise, with moreish multiplayer and a beguiling, unique style that sets it apart in a crowded genre. Slight performance hiccups crop up when matches get too busy, but they're rare, and you'll be having too much fun to really notice. A couple of extra modes or online multiplayer would've made this easier to recommend, but it's fun, snappy, and full of character nonetheless, and if you're looking for a little light-heartedness in your multiplayer gaming sessions, don't dodge this.