Super Dodge Ball is one of the most violent games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. You don’t just defeat enemies or shoot them until they explode, no you beat them to death with a volleyball. Know how can tell they’re dead? Their ghostly angel souls fly out of them and up to heaven. Confirmed kill; collect their dog tags when you win.
Its all worth it though, you’re competing for the pride of the USA in the late 80s when Communist threats like Russia and China were at an all time high. You’ll compete in six-on-six volleyball to-the-death action against country after country leading up to China in the semifinals and Russia in the finals. One loss and its game over, because again, this is to-the-death.
The court is divided into two equal halves, the American side; or as I like to call it the right side, which is really on the left. Then there’s the foreign side on the right. On your half of the court stand your three active players. You only control one at a time and its usually the one closest to the ball. Then outside of the opposing team’s half of the court you have a single man at the north, south and east. They play just like anyone else on the team, they can jump, throw, catch and most importantly attack someone with the ball.
It takes the belt-scrolling brawler genre and turns it on its head by giving you a dodge ball. Instead of throwing punches, you throw a hard as nails volley ball. There’s no give to it and it will rarely bounce or roll unless its off of someone’s skull. On higher difficulties there is some strategy and planning that goes into each maneuver, because soon enough the opposing team will be just as good as you are, but with twice the health. Each of the three active teammates has their own health shown up at the top of the screen. Once its gone, they’re gone.
The controls are simple yet deep. The directional pad moves your character all around and the computer controller characters are somewhat competent, but only you get actively attacked. If the ball is at your feet, the B button picks it up. Then when you have it, B button will throw, A button will pass to whomever you have it pointed to with the directional pad. A + B simultaneous will make your character jump and double tapping left or right on the pad will make you run.
Its the running that will super charge your throw, making it flash. So instead of doing single digit damage, you’ll do double digit. This super charge doesn’t always seem to work, maybe its a timing thing or a hidden stamina meter, but it doesn’tt feel consistent. Each of your six characters has their own special throw. One throw hurls it up in the air then it bombs into the ground. Another splits the ball into three and still another makes the ball wave.
No matter how strong the throw, they can still be caught and for you to do it, just push the B button. Your character will hold out his palms and stay that way for a second, making him vulnerable to attack from other directions. If your catch pose ends, it takes a moment to make it available again. This adds a lot of strategy and timing into doing something as simple as catching a ball. A will duck, but I didn’t find much use for it honestly.
You only throw where a player is and not where they will be. So if someone has their back to you running away and you jump throw, it will hit the ground. You’ll need to just throw the ball at him to hit him. There are advanced tactics like leaping into the air to pick a pass. Of course you need to still catch the ball or you’ll still get hit.
If one of your active players crosses the line with the ball, they’ll lose drop it immediately. You can still jump over the line, just as long as your feet don’t touch the ground. If you fail to throw or pass the ball when you’ve jumped into enemy territory, your back will be to them as you’re forced to run to your side. Your foes can then knock you down and mercilessly pelt your carcass again and again until you’re beaten to death.
At the start of each match, you’ll get to arrange your team if you want to, but without seeing stats, there’s no way of knowing who is the better man for each position without experimenting. Another team will cheat and step into your court to pick a ball if you’re not careful. Its an admirable job for an original NES game.
Each of the nations plays a bit differently, but one of the more interesting facets I found was their turf. One nation has sand where it takes a while to start running quickly. Another nation has a hard surface that allows the ball to roll and possibly into the hands of the person that just threw it.
Outside of the world tour, there’s two player versus and bean ball for one or two players. Bean ball is more of a diversion. Just you against your team with one ball and everyone out for themselves. just a bunch of men in shorts throwing around a volley ball. There can be only one winner though and its more difficult when you get down to less people. Its also a good way to get to know your team.
The sad part about the game are the limitations with the console. Each player looks the same, but with a different head and even then, its tough to tell them apart. There are a few that stand out, because they’re bald and another one with Abobo’s face, but that’s about it. There’s also a lot of flicker with this mode and the world championship. Super Dodge Ball is just too much of a beast for the hardware.
There are subtle issues, like my team isn’t paying attention. I’ll find them with their backs turned to the man with the ball. Other times I’ll catch the ball and it still counts as a hit. Maybe it was just thrown that hard where no man could catch it without a cast iron baseball mitt. There was one round where.
I like the game despite its flaws, its still fun to pick up and play twenty-five years later. Super Dodge Ball Advance is a better game, but this was the original. Something that took those River City Ransom thugs off the street and put them on a plane to fight other criminals in a sport about killing people.