Pirates vs Ninjas Dodgeball Xbox Live Review

Who would win in a fight between a Ninja and a Pirate? It’s a question that dates back to the distant dark ages of the early 21st century. Now publishers Gamecock have decided to give you the chance to pick your side and fight in this epic battle.

So what form will your weapons take? Muskets? Throwing stars? Cutlasses? Katana?
Developers Blazing Lizard must have considered each of these options carefully and decided that what people would love to wield when facing their mortal enemies is a big, red ball.

In Britain, the entirety of our experience with the ‘sport’ of Dodgeball is probably limited to a Ben Stiller movie and an old episode of South Park. If you don’t know the rules then fear not, as PvN Dodgeball bears as much resemblance to the real-life game as Michael Jackson does to his childhood self.

PvN has just three rule-sets, Traditional Dodgeball sees players essentially restricted to their side of the central line, Enhanced Dodgeball gives participants a three-second leeway to venture across the border and Combat Dodgeball removes the line altogether and becomes a free-for-all.

And that’s where any similarities with real Dodgeball end. This is really more of a brawler than a sport, except damage can only be inflicted by flinging a ball at your opponent. You can physically attack other combatants, but this will only stun them. To win this game, you really need balls.

With the use of a timed button press, the ball can be caught to regain health, and your character can dodge shots with a flick of the right analog stick. You can also throw un-catchable ‘power’ shots by chucking the ball at the height of a jump or immediately after receiving a catch.

And that’s about it. Well, there are two additional factions to unlock, robots and zombies. And there’s a story mode in which plot exposition consists entirely of text dialogue and static images of characters’ heads. This can be completed in a couple of hours and although it provides a couple of almost-funny lines, it doesn’t provide any real motives for battle beyond mutual hatred. Of course, the robots want to extinguish all organic life, and the zombies are just in it for the brains, but you knew that already.

The camera is at a distant, shallow angle that provokes much confusion when up to eight characters are bustling about and manages to leave a few blind-spots behind level scenery and at corners of the playfield. You can switch between the characters on your team, but most of the time you won’t bother for fear of losing track of who you’re controlling.

The AI is extremely inconsistent, and both friendly and enemy AI veers wildly and randomly between SAS-like levels of precision and bovine stupidity. Victory and defeat in larger battles often feels like a random dice-roll as you’re dependant on how well your cohorts decide to perform.

Multiplayer and co-operative options alleviate some of these annoyances of course, and up to four-players can get together offline, and a total of eight players can battle it out over Xbox Live. When lag and frame-rates aren’t an issue (which they frequently are), PvN Dodgeball almost approaches the frantic fun of a party game, but even this can’t disguise the essential shallowness of the gameplay.

There are just four ‘arenas’ to choose from, four factions, with four characters in each, three similar modes and variable numbers of Balls present in each game. It won’t take long to exhaust the possibilities. It’s hard to recommend this game when there are so many other quality experiences vying for your Microsoft Points on the Xbox Live Arcade.

The story mode hints that Pirates and Ninja may meet again to fight through the use of another obscure sport (Soccer anyone?), which begs the question why Blazing Lizard didn’t just create an actual fighting game. In any case, if creating games around internet memes is to become commonplace, then let me be the first to call for a LOLcat MMORPG. Let’s make it happen, people.

3 out of 10
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