Pirates vs. Ninjas? It's an internet debate as old as Rock vs. Techno. Debated across the internet, from the coziest kid-friendly forum hiding out the back of Disney.com to Barrens chat in Azeroth, the eternal question of "who would win?" has been jockied back and forth since the dawn of time.
Now, thanks to developer Blazing Lizard and publisher Gamecock, kids (and kids at heart) with an Xbox 360, access to the internet and a spare 800 space bucks can find out - via the competitive medium of video game dodgeball. Clearly, this is an issue that needed resolving and dodgeball is obviously the method by which our quest to determine a victor of this age-old contest should be decided. Obviously.
All jesting aside, the concept is straight forward - it's a kid friendly game where the goal is to defeat an opposing team (either up to 8 humans online / 4 offline, or the computer) by chucking balls at them. It's in a cool cartoon setting where the player can elect to play as a team of pirates, ninjas or (ultimately) robots or zombies.
The rules of dodgeball are amended slightly to suit the fantasy setting, which itself translates to a number of themed play fields which suit each of the various combating teams.
There's even a story for each of the teams, which itself is broken down into multiple sub-stories, one each for the 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 play modes. Players must play through the pirate and ninja storylines in order to unlock the robots and zombies.
The game itself isn't too hard once you get the hang of the controls, which are pretty straight forward and surprisingly responsive to skill - as you get the hang of it, you'll find yourself doing some nifty shots and, more importantly, timing your attacks to reflect shots fired at you. You can also do some offensive stuff, beating the enemy into a daze during which he won't be able to move or block your shots with the dodgeball.
Graphically it's nothing super exciting but for a low-budget, low cost downloadable game in the Xbox Live Arcade, there's nothing wrong with them. The style is certainly attractive and consistent with itself, with nice humorous touches and a light, experienced air about the package. This light, adequate (but not super exciting) approach is applied just as deftly to the audio, which suits the title just fine.
Unfortunately the designers made the decision to spice up the playfields with lots of obstacles (in theme with each level type). Whilst this sounds like a good idea, in combination with a low, field-side camera, it results in lots of frustration - particularly in the snow level, where the camera is set extra low to show off their (admittedly impressive) deformable snow terrain.
This single decision decimates the gameplay and tears it down from something quite solid to something very frustrating (at times) indeed. All too many points will be lost because you're trapped behind something or can't figure out why your character won't pick up the ball (itself behind something but you can't quite tell).
Otherwise, your character sometimes runs in directions you're clearly not telling it to and the actual throwing of the ball aspect of the game is somewhat lacklustre, automatically locking on and generally feeling unskillful to play.
So, if you're looking for something super awesome to compete with your hardcore gaming mates at, this isn't it. If you're out for the next big arcade gaming sensation, look elsewhere.
If, however, you're after something inoffensive to entertain the youngsters without having to explain about death, the birds and the bees or any other adult themes, you could do worse. Chances are the chaotic and relatively low-difficulty gameplay, combined with the cartoony visuals and Nickelodeon-esque story (there are adult themes but much in the same way the Simpsons has them) makes for a semi-decent way to entertain kids on a rainy night.