Stikbold! is a game that hails back to a simpler time, both in terms of life and gaming. If you are not at least familiar with the term “free love” and the word “funk” is a bad thing to you, your childhood might actually suck. Today, we live in an era where children have to be scheduled just to get together and have fun. Everything is so easily available online that kids don’t know the thrill of trying to catch a glimpse of the naughty channels unscrambling for a brief second. They will never know the sugar high of a giant pixie stick or the wonder of a Saturday afternoon Godzilla marathon. Now, there is even the threat of dodgeball being removed from schools. Nothing is sacred these days, but developer Game Swing is doing their best to save the greatest sport to ever grace a playground. They have found the culprit behind the downfall of dodgeball and their new game is going to help put a stop to their madness.
COULD IT BE. . . ? On the day of the finals, our heroes Björn and Jerome are preparing for the big match. Actually, Jerome is preparing; Björn is goofing off and their coach is not happy about it. Coach has trained champion after champion but last year, the team only brought home silver. A tutorial ensues to make sure the duo is ready to restore glory to the gym. Coach sees that you are in top form but he is still not happy because Björn immediately goes gaga for Heidi Starbrow. Björn and Jerome both agree that she is beautiful but Coach points out that she is the one that took home the gold last year. Björn continues to fawn over her even as the devil drops from the skylight and kidnaps Heidi and her partner. This makes Coach happy because now they will win by default. Jerome refuses to accept this type of victory and so our two heroes embark on a journey to rescue their opponents from the prince of darkness. Coach tells them that if they are not back in time for the match that he will accept the gold trophy on their behalf. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Stikbold! Ridiculous as it is, it fits this game perfectly and sets up scenes that make less and less sense as you progress. It is best to not try and figure things out however because this game is about having fun; the story is only there for show.
TRUE TO THE GAME There are many obstacles on the way to saving the girl of your dreams from the devil so that you can play against her in the dodgeball championships! Most of them come in the form of wacky people looking to smack you in the face with a dodgeball. . . or maybe a van. Stikbold! is a pretty strategic game; I know that sounds crazy but just bear with me. There will always be matches where your opponents, human or CPU, go down quickly, but getting that gold trophy is no cake walk. If you have ever played the game in real life, you know the rules. Basically, you avoid getting hit or catch the ball. Stikbold! unfortunately does not follow the rule where the attacker is eliminated if the opposing team catches the ball. The controls are very simple. The left trigger dodges and the right trigger throws. There are several ways to be crafty with your attacks. Some stages have obstacles like park benches, surfboards, etc. You will often see the CPU running for cover behind these as you can also choose to do. You can curve the ball around obstacles with the right analog or aim in a direction opposite your movement with said stick. If you are having trouble with that, you can use a charge shot to simply destroy the obstacles, but this leaves you exposed as well. Holding the throw for a second or two charges your throw and can score you a powerful, long-range attack. Enemy attacks can be cancelled if you dodge into the ball from the side; this is a good way to turn the tables on the other team. An even better method is stealing the ball directly from the other team by smacking them with R1. The best defense is not allowing the other team to mount an offense and Stikbold! lets you be pretty creative with your attack style. There is a lot more just than throw and return as natural (and unnatural) hazards exist on the field. Dangers such as opponents using beehives and jellyfish instead of the regular dodgeball are field-specific hazards. Uncontrollable dangers like a hippie trying to run you over in a van, waves crashing on the beach and even a white whale trying to swallow you number amongst the dangers you face. Knowing what odes what is important because some things simply stun you like beehives; the van can take a partner out of action until you revive them and things like Moby Whale can mean game over depending upon how you are hit. The variety experienced in Stikbold! Are what make it a lot of fun and give the game a ton of replayability.
SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE Stikbold! will not be taking home any best graphics of 2016 awards. I really don’t care because fans of the show will know that one of my favorite games of all time is Katamari Damacy which also would never win a best graphics contest. To give an idea of what the game really looks like, imagine mashing up the aforementioned Katamari with Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” and South Park’s portrayal of Canadian people. The polygonal graphics hail back to the days of the Nintendo 64 and that gives the game a very nostalgic feel. The music adds to that feeling with a 1970s-inspired soundtrack. Honestly, the only thing I might have done differently would be to make characters that parodied 70s greats like Cheech and Chong or Starsky and Hutch. Then again, that might have changed the rating. Maybe if Stikbold! gets a sequel we will see something like that. Polygonal graphics are where the nostalgia ends because the animation and framerate in the game are both solid. In terms of real people there can be a maximum of four players but run-in events will double and possibly triple that number during a match. Aside from some scripted bullet-time, the game never slows down. Some may find issue with the look of the game, but it all comes together to make something worth checking out; that is what really matters.
Retro games are starting to become a cliche the same way HD ports have. Every time you turn around there is another retro-style game and while they may mostly be good, the market is flooding. It is becoming difficult for these titles to stand out and that is what I like about Stikbold! Instead of going for over the top, hardcore 8-bit action, it goes for 16-bit action akin to a goofy comedy on cable TV. A combination of storytelling, music, banter and cultural references make this game at least peek its head out from the crowd. This is definitely the type of game that would have eaten rolls of quarters in the arcade days and gamers new and old will be able to appreciate the ability to pick it up for quick fun. If put down, it does not matter if it is for a day or a year, the game can be picked right back up allowing players to jump right back into that same fun without wondering how the hell to control the characters.
With 16 unlockable characters, on and offline multiplayer and multiple play styles, Stikbold! is a great arcade, party or online game. The multiplayer lets you pin two on two or go free for all where it is every man for himself. Even in this age where indie games are known for outshining triple A titles, it is rare to see a game that gives you this much fun for so long. If supported properly, Stikbold! could be 2016’s Rocket League in terms of longevity and fan support. The current campaign is short, but that can be remedied with an extended campaign via DLC or a sequel. All I know is that I want to keep smacking people in the face for the days to come. If you want to join me, you know where to find me.