This game brought me right back to the golden shower days of gaming, when Gaben himself would pour golden streams of gaming goodness upon us all.
I mean, um.. what?
This game brought me right back to the golden shower days of gaming, when Gaben himself would pour golden streams of gaming goodness upon us all.
I mean, um.. what?
(Dodgeball Academia is available for Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.)
Growing up, school constantly felt like a battleground. Many mornings were spent in preparation for the numerous attacks that were certain to catch me off-guard during my day. From the bathrooms with their soldiers of swirlies, to the walks home full of twists and turns in a labyrinthine neighborhood, nowhere was safe. On the flipside, there also wasn’t really any place that felt more dangerous either. Unless you found yourself on the dodgeball court.
That wasn’t a battleground, it was a fucking warzone.
Now imagine how I reacted upon learning that there was a game all about the warm and fuzzy feeling that only a rubber ball to the face could provide. Enter: Dodgeball Academia!
Dodgeball Academia is what you get when you blend a sports game with the look of Gravity Falls, the “trainer” systems from Pokemon, the upgrades and customization of role-playing games, and the story-telling of a Saturday morning cartoon. Visually, it has an easily identifiable style, which is something that modern games are sorely lacking. The character designs especially pop against the 3D rendered background, while the vibrant and complimenting colors help to further bring everything together. These are characters and settings that I could easily see finding a home on a children’s cartoon network like…Cartoon Network.
So all is well and good in the land of initial appearances, but I think a lot of people know that first impressions aren’t always telling of what’s going on on a deeper level. Oftentimes it takes a moment or two for us to begin to understand a motive before we really get down to judgement. This reigns true, even in the world of video games. Case in point: once I began to actually play Dodgeball Academia, I realized that looks truly aren’t everything. The core content wasn’t something I could see myself staying with in the future.
The biggest reason for this was due to Dodgeball Academia’s story. I don’t personally think the plot of the game is bad, but I do think it was a story that didn’t quite mesh with me. The length of the story would wear on me from time to time, which led to many speed reads through the numerous lines of dialogue. The writing isn’t poorly done, but it is juvenile. You can tell that this story catered more toward fans of the shows that it pulled visual inspiration from, which admittedly let me down.
I did enjoy how Dodgeball Academia presented it’s story though. The narrative is portrayed in an episodic manner, with each chapter having its own plot while also carrying along the game’s main story. Each episode is only a couple of hours in length too, so being able to indulge in the dodgebally goodness in bite sized chunks was a breeze. There’s plenty of variety and creativity within these stories, which helps to prevent Dodgeball Academia from feeling too samey in it’s formula. I will say though that I do wish there was more time to breathe and explore between story beats. The game is fairly linear and doesn’t offer a huge variety of activities outside of some side quests and the occasional spot to grind some levels.
Speaking of levels, let’s take a moment to discuss the core gameplay here. I think Dodgeball Academia’s gameplay systems were my favorite thing about this experience (outside of taking in the visuals, of course). Once you spend a moment with the game, it’s easy to tell that Dodgeball Academia was built around the idea of being an homage to not just a PE class pastime, but to role-playing games as well. There are a plethora of systems here that are pulled from many classic RPGs which all come together to work in beautiful harmony. There’s your standard experience based leveling systems, items and gear to purchase, use and equip, enemies to run into if you’re looking to grind the day away, and more. To be honest, the core gameplay is a large reason why I nearly 100% completed Dodgeball Academia.
The game is also party based, with a large cast of characters that you can control through your journey. This helps with gameplay variety, by allowing you to access a plethora of differing playstyles. Granted they don’t differ in the way something like builds in Diablo do, but they still vary enough to offer the player a semblance of choice.
Everyone has super cool anime powers given to them by the power of a magical dodgeball as well, which further helps diversify the roster. For example, one character may harness the power of electricity which allows them to stun more opponents, while another may harness the power of fire, leading to many a crispy kiddo. I thoroughly enjoyed uncovering every character’s special power, from those that I played as, to those who you merely fight against on the court. It helped bring another level of personality to a game already bursting at the seams with charisma and allure.
Which I wish was the same for the music in Dodgeball Academia. Sadly, that’s not really the case based on my experience. While the game doesn’t have a particularly bad soundtrack, I can’t deny that it can get a bit grating on the ears after some time. In my opinion, the problem stems from a lack of variety in the music. Individually, these tracks almost all fit well with the overall look and feel of Dodgeball Academia. The issue lies within how often these tracks are used, and how rarely I was given a reprieve from them. The main hub of the game is accompanied by this tune where you have a guitar just going absolutely crazy in the background with it’s “wah-wahs” and “wee-woos”. I swear that song single-handedly led to me speeding through the game at a faster rate, which kinda saddened me. I was really looking forward to more variety in this one.
Look, Dodgeball Academia isn’t a perfect game. That’s completely fine, seeing as perfect video games don’t exist. But it is a well put together gaming experience that knows it’s influences and wears them proudly on it’s sleeve. There may not have been as much here to enjoy as initial impressions initially led me to believe, but not every game will fit every person. And again, I’ll reiterate this for the upteenth time: Dodgeball Academia isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s a really good game. A really good game for a select few: younger gamers and sports fans mostly.
Regardless of which demographic Dodgeball Academia best suits, I don’t at all regret my time with the game. It was a nice throwback to the days of old, where every day meant putting my life on the painted white line in gym class. Where my classmates and I became not only friends, but comrades in a war against enemies that threatened the composition of all of our faces. It was a time I will forever be nostalgic for, and at the end of the day, I think I actually owe it to Dodgeball Academia for reigniting my appreciation for those times. For that reason alone, I’d say that the game is well worth your time, even if it doesn’t end up being your next favorite game.
Video review can be found here.
(Carto is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Mac, and Xbox One.)
I find maps to be one of the most boring things on the planet known as Earth (as well as other subsequent planets with civilizations that also utilize the power of “maps”). I understand the practicality behind them, and you won’t catch me doubting their importance any time soon. Still, stating my appreciation for maps isn’t suddenly going to lift them from the trenches of boredom. They’ll remain down there forever, sloshing around in the grimy boredom sludge as it bubbles and broils deep within a metaphorical well. Nothing could possibly ever make maps remotely interesting in my eyes. Nothing, except for a video game with a primary mechanic focused mainly on all things “mappy”.
Here’s my two cents on “Carto”.
The premise in Carto is fairly straightforward. There isn’t much room for ambiguity here, on account of the fact that this tale is practically a children’s bedtime story come to life. You take on the role of an adorable cartographer in the making named Carto, as she travels from land to land, searching for her grandmother. Why is she searching for ol’ gamgam? Because Carto has this power that allows her to rotate pieces of the land around her by moving pieces on this map jigsaw puzzle thing, which inadvertently leads to her and her gammy getting caught up in a thunderstorm and subsequently separated from one another. Look, I know it doesn’t make much sense, alright? I get that. It doesn’t help that major story moments are shown through still images either. But at the same time, the game isn’t a non-fiction piece, and it still conveyed it’s messages well enough for me to understand, even if the on-screen action is lacking.
That isn’t to say the entire game is devoid of dialogue though. It’s honestly quite the opposite. This game has a fairly decent roster of side-characters for you to talk to, learn about the world from, and even adventure with. The writing that brings these characters to life is consistently light-hearted, while managing to maintain a strong focus on family, culture, and tradition. It was something I was quite appreciative of, as the light-heartedness reaches beyond the dialogue. It’s found throughout the game and the game’s world. There are no combat sequences in Carto. There is no primary antagonist to contend with. No darkness to banish or end of the world to stop. Personally, I haven’t had such a laid back experience since I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons when that came out. Go at your own pace, combat-free titles aren’t something we see very often in modern day gaming, so I found it to be a refreshing change of pace.
I didn’t watch the credits roll on Carto at the end of my roughly 5 hour playthrough and immediately reflect on my past life choices or the greater impact of culture and tradition on the societies that form and surround themselves with them. What I did feel, however, was a fairly decent sense of accomplishment for completing what turned out to be a rather challenging puzzle game.
Now let’s talk about gameplay, because it is, without a doubt, the central focus of Carto. As I mentioned in my introduction to this review, Carto’s primary game mechanic is it’s map. Or maps, I guess I should say, since Carto will take you through a variety of levels neatly disguised as different locales. We’ll touch more on these locales once we reach the “presentation” section of the review (that’s the next section coming up), but for now, let’s talk about the map itself.
See, this map is a special map. It’s a supah dupah vernacular spectacular bad bitch map. It’s a “sell your gold laced glass eye and your hair follicles for good measure” type of map. This map is going to not only allow you to rotate pieces of it like a jigsaw puzzle whenever you want, it’s going to allow you to do so much more. It’s going to allow you to help worms eat dirt, organize a library that may or may not contain the knowledge of everything that has happened and/or will happen, cook a live bird through the power of volcanic ventilation, play Tetris with glaciers, and much more. To say that Carto’s use of it’s primary mechanic is imaginative and consistently enjoyable would be an understatement. This game is practically the Mario Odyssey of maps. (I never thought I’d see the day where I’d say that in a review.)
That isn’t to say the games puzzles are all enjoyable or of consistent quality, either. There were sadly a few obstacles I came across in my journey that brought my progression to a halt and required the use of a guide. I’m happy to inform you that this only happened twice throughout my playthrough, though in a 5 or 6 hour game, having two roadblocks impede progression can feel rather substantial. It didn’t ruin my experience with Carto or anything of that degree, but I did still find it to be worth noting anyway.
When you aren’t playing Beyblades with map pieces, the only other thing you’ll really spend your time doing is conversing with people. Talking with everyone in any given level is oftentimes vital to progression, as well reminding you where to go if you ever forget your current objective. If you aren’t one to enjoy text-based games devoid of any voice overs, with a focus on world building and character relationships, Carto may not be for you. If you are into those things however, Carto may be worth adding to your video game wishlist, as it supplies dialogue in droves. Not at the level of say, Disco Elysium or Pillars of Eternity, but still enough to where you’ll easily spend a few hours in this game solely on reading.
Carto sports a unique mechanic that helps it stand out from the crowd of generic, by-the-numbers video games constantly fighting one another for a chance to suck your wallet dry like a mosquito buzzing around in the middle of the Everglades during summertime. It’s a mechanic that’s utilized in enjoyable and creative ways, oftentimes leaving me excited to know what gimmick would come in to play next. However, if Carto were any longer in it’s runtime than what it actually is, I think I would start seeing diminishing returns on my experience to time invested ratio. I also think that while the story-telling and world-building are nice touches, I could have done with a little bit less of it. Dialogue is fine and all, but it’s not something I really expect to see in a puzzle game. So, my patience with conversations tends to be a bit shorter in those situations.
Still an enjoyable experience from a gameplay standpoint.
I think that’s a great way to summarize Carto as a complete package: enjoyable. The story-telling is enjoyable for what it is, the gameplay is enjoyable despite its flaws, and…
The presentation is absolutely adorable, from it’s hand-painted aesthetic down to the design of Carto herself. This game absolutely nails the feeling of visuals reminiscent of a children’s bedtime story, with its centralized color palettes brimming with vibrancy and it’s textured surfaces that help the environments “pop” ever so slightly. Though I was initially worried about a potential lack of environmental variety, I was happy to have those doubts quickly squashed upon visiting my third or fourth locale. Carto starts in somewhat monotonous woodlands but eventually gives way to underground tunnels, deserts, tundras and more. I enjoyed the variety of places Carto journeys through during her quest to find her grandmother, which is a sentiment I initially didn’t think I’d walk away with.
There isn’t too much to comment on in regards to the games music and sound. While Carto does have a simple, unobtrusive soundtrack, I couldn’t help but occasionally feel annoyed by it. Namely in the moments where I was stuck, but also in moments containing puzzles with more complex solutions. Hearing a few tracks for longer than I would have liked didn’t sit well with me, but aside from this happening on a few occasions, the soundtrack is serviceable, if a bit forgettable.
Sound effects are also fairly generic, with nothing really standing out here, either. The key difference between the sound effects and the soundtrack of Carto being that the former didn’t ever annoy me during my time with the game. As was the case with the soundtrack, sound effects here are serviceable, but they aren’t anything to write home about.
Like the other components we’ve previously discussed, the presentation in Carto is enjoyable, save for a few short-lived occasions. It may not personally be my cup of hot lava, but it works decently within the confines of Carto, which is sometimes all you can ask for when it comes to presentation in video games.
Carto is an enjoyable game for both map-lovers and map-deniers alike. Though it’s gameplay may suffer from a lack of variety, and it’s story and presentation leave something to be desired, there are still plenty of things here deserving of your time. There are just the right amount of puzzle mechanics to warrant playing Carto, while an endearing art style helps give reason for enjoying this game passively, be it with a friend or via your favorite content creator. It may not be perfect, but it is perfectly deserving of a verdict of “Definitely Worth Sale Price”.