Ever since Super Dodgeball appeared on NES about twenty years ago, numerous knock-offs and sequels have been made but none have replicated nor surpassed the greatness of the original. Pirates Vs. Ninja Dodgeball takes a few notes from dodgeball games before it, but falls flat due to a horrible camera system and a broken online mode.
My first impression of this game took a turn for the worse even before I started playing. The first initial loading screen takes so long to load, I thought my 360 broke. During this super long load, the player is forced to listen to the game’s theme song that consists of a sword sound effect and a pirate grunting. In fact, this load screen is long that the theme song actually loops. And while this theme song is trying to tie in the whole pirate/ninja theme, it just winds up being one big pile of get-out-of-my-ears.
Like a traditional game of dodgeball, teams of 2, 3, or 4 compete to nail the snot out of each other with a red rubber ball. This is where the traditional element ends. Instead of the typical rule of: get hit and you’re out – make a catch to get a teammate back in; Pirates Vs Ninja Dodgeball gives each player an energy bar. Foes can be physically attacked to cause them to go into a stun animation (but will not decrease health), leaving them open for attack. Besides just throwing balls back and forth, balls can be reflected back at the opponent by attacking at just the right moment. Each character also has a super move to aid your team in battle. Turning invisible, stunning multiple opponents, or even having a dog fetch a ball are some examples. Having this “attack” option makes this game more of a brawler than a sport title.
There are three modes to play. There is the traditional option, where you can only cross the center line by jumping over it. While still revolving around this center line, another option offers a solid three second rule to stay in opponent territory before he will automatically retreat back to the original starting side. The final mode is similar to Super Dodgeball’s Bean Ball mode. Here, players can roam wherever they see fit and are not restricted to their half of the screen. Unfortunately, I still wish there was a typical dodgeball mode where it’s one hit and you are out. The health meter is a staple in every gameplay type.
Like all dodgeball video games, there are many ways to throw the ball. If the player stands still then throws, the ball will home in on the selected opponent. Jumping then throwing at the apex of a jump results in a power throw. Setting up a one-timer with a fellow teammate also adds some speed to the throw. Some throws cannot be blocked back while others cannot be dodged. It is hard to tell which type of throw is coming after you because of the weak particle effects and lacking camera system.
With all the ways to attack your opponent and three different gameplay options, there are some dominating problems with the game. The biggest flaw is the camera perspective. The camera is almost set parallel to the ground eliminating any sense of depth whatsoever. And when balls get thrown to the perimeter of the stage, the camera never pans out as far and as fast as it should. This makes running for loose balls a total crap shoot. There are only four stages to choose from, and each one has a big time problem with the camera, especially the ninja level due to its hilly nature.
There are four teams to play as: pirates, ninjas, robots, and zombies. Each has a story mode that makes a decent attempt to be funny, but players will want to skip the bland cut scenes just to get on with the campaign. The game makes it worthwhile to play each group’s story mode by rewarding a fair amount of Achievement Points.
Besides the story mode, up to 8 players can play over Xbox Live. This would be the most entertaining way to play if the online mode actually worked. When I clicked the option to play a Ranked Match, I was stuck in a “Synchronizing” screen for a solid 15 minutes. No I am not joking. I actually walked away from my console, made myself lunch, and ate it during this “synchronizing” process. This error was not because there was no one else online either as a different message would have appeared onscreen. The online mode is just broken. After about an hour of just trying to get into an online game, I eventually competed in a four player ranked match. However, the lag was so severe, it was like playing in a flip book with three out of every four pages ripped out. But somehow, my team won. But after winning, my name was not ranked on the Leaderboard. WTF!
After playing a few more online matches, I realized how buggy this game is. There were times when two balls would get stuck together and start shaking around as if they were both in a seizure. I play another game where my team should have won, but the game froze right before the “win” message appeared. There were other times when the randomly thrown ball would also get stuck in the environment. And there is no way to hit an opponent with the ball when standing directly next to them. Yeah, there are some issues.
This game is major disappointment. My hopes grew high when Gamecock sent me the first screenshots months ago. But not having an option to play a traditional game of dodgeball, the broken online mode, and the horrendous camera make this game nearly unplayable. There are dozens of better XBLA gaming options for 800 Microsoft Points. If anything, playing this game really makes me want to see Super Dodgeball hit the Wii’s Virtual Console.