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The GoodSuper Dodge Ball is one of the earliest games I remember playing on the NES, all those years ago as tiny tyke. I can only remember that my father and I rented it and I was probably way too young to actually grasp the concept. Years later, my memory was boosted when I played its successor, Super Dodge Ball Advance, as one of the first titles on the Game Boy Advance. I absolutely loved that game and I still crack it out every now and then. So now that I’m exploring the NES’s library, it seems only natural that I eventually make it to this particular game of significance.
If you can’t guess, Super Dodge Ball is a video game representation of Dodge Ball, but with a twist. Teams consist of six players, three of which stand in the court while the other three surround the enemy team on the sidelines. Your goal is to knock out the other team’s three court members by damaging them enough with what looks like a volleyball. To make things easier for you, each member of your team has two power throws, one that is executed by sprinting before throwing, while the other is done by throwing at the apex of a jump. Be careful though, the opposing teams can also use power throws. Oddly enough, there’s very little dodging involved in Super Dodge Ball, as it’s easier and more beneficial to actually catch the ball than it is to move out of its way.
The best thing about Super Dodge Ball is how over the top and unrealistic it is. Some of the power shots are really absurd, like one that flies straight up in the air before descending down on the player. Some shots will hit a player so hard that they fly off screen and reappear on the other side, Pac-Man style. Super Dodge Ball is part of the Kunio-Kun series of games in Japan, and because of this, it uses the same graphics style as River City Ransom and Crash ‘N the Boys. This graphical style lends itself well to the painful sport of dodge ball, as player faces show such extreme expressions of pain when hit, it’s really quite satisfying. The cartoonish violence is not only hilarious, but also an excellent stress reliever. Nothing is more cleansing than hitting people in the face with padded balls.
Like all good sports games should be, Super Dodge Ball is a very simple game to pick up and play. The rules are extremely easy to grasp, with the simple goal being to wipe out the opponent’s players. While advanced techniques like the power throws can take some practice to get the hang of, I was able to teach a friend how to do it consistently over the course of a single match. Catching an opponent’s throw is also made simple, since the grab animation lingers for a few moments, providing a lengthy window to make the catch. As long as you press the button moments before your character is hit by the ball, he’ll catch it. The game really makes the most of the NES controller.
In addition to the normal single and multiplayer modes, you can also play bean ball. In bean ball you play as one of six characters in a free-for-all with the goal of being the last man standing. While it’s not as entertaining as the core game, it is still pretty hectic fun. It’s even better with a second player, but it’s a shame that the four-player mode that was in the Japanese Famicom version isn’t present.
The BadSuper Dodge Ball has technical problems up the ass. I have never seen so much sprite flicker in my life, it’s absurd! It’s so bad that there are actually moments where the ball completely disappears behind the NES’s inability to render large amounts of sprites. During end-game victory celebrations, it’s not uncommon to see large chunks of players disappear between animations. That’s not its only problem either because the frame rate is horribly choppy. It’s bizarre; it seems to get worse on certain courts for some strange reason. These technical problems are normally easy to ignore if they don’t affect gameplay, but they do. The unstable frame rate can throw off your timing when it comes to catching, and the sprite flicker can actually hide an incoming ball from you. These problems weren’t enough to cripple my enjoyment of the game, but they are really hard to ignore.
While the 2-player versus mode is fun on a bun, more attention should have been given to it, as it feels very limited. You can select from any of the teams that you face in the single-player mode, but each of them comes with their own stats in relation to their position on the tournament ladder. This means that team USSR is so heavily stacked that any player that chooses it is assured victory over a player who chooses one of the lesser teams that appear early in the game. Plus, there’s no real way of knowing what stats a team has unless you have the instruction booklet, and even then, it isn’t clear what teams are equal in their abilities, so the only sure way of having an even match is by picking the exact same team. This shouldn’t even be in multiplayer. Every team should be equal in skill; it doesn’t matter where they were in the standard mode. Another unfortunate exclusion of the multi-player is the ability to select a court. In single-player, each court you play on has slightly different attributes in terms of traction, like an ice court that has your players sliding around. In multiplayer, however, you’re stuck using one generic court.
Speaking of balance issues, I can’t help but feel that some of the power throws are a lot better than others. For example, there is one aerial throw that moves extremely slowly, as if it’s being played in slow motion. It may be intended to trick other players, since it’s hard to time a catch with it moving so slow, but its target has about a year to move out of the way. I’m serious, in all the time I spent playing the game, I’ve only managed to hit my friend with it once, which was incredibly embarrassing for him. There’s also a throw that passes by its target, then hits them from behind, and I swear that nine times out of ten it misses completely. There’s no reason for these power shots to suck so hard and it puts the players who have them at a disadvantage against someone with a shot that moves quickly and passes through multiple players.
Once you have the basics of catching and power throws down pat, Super Dodge Ball is a staggeringly easy game. I was able to beat both the normal and difficult modes on my first try, though to be fair, I did play the Game Boy Advance version quite a bit back in its day. Still, after you finish the game’s hardest difficulty, what else do you have to do? I suppose there’s bean ball, but that’s more of a simple diversion than a mode with any depth. It’s really hard to feel like I got my money’s worth when I “mastered” the game on my first day. I can’t even think of any secondary goals I could make for myself. All I can do now is dust it off every now and then for a round of multiplayer. How depressing.