Stikbold Review: Hitting Friends with Balls

Stikbold stood out from the crowd at SxSW Gaming 2016 enough to earn our "Best Party Mayhem/Relationship Ender" award for the conference. After a great indroduction at the con, we were fortunate to have some time to check out the game in more depth. The game is full of surprises of the best kind and we'll break it all down below.

If You Can Dodge a Wrench...

If you were a fan of Dodgeball (the movie), or perhaps an enduring appreciator of Super Dodge Ball from the good old days - then you know that it can be pretty entertaining when this playground game is elevated to "professional sport" status. Stikbold captures all of that magic, and adds its own spin on the mayhem that seems to follow any occasion where adults hurl balls at one another. The mechanics of throwing, dodging, catching, and passing all feel tightly executed and form a solid foundation for the core loop of the game.

Beyond Indie Expectations

To be honest, that is all I expected of this indie - a fun dodgeball 4-up couch co-op party game. Stikbold certainly delivers on the "party game" basics with up to 4 player matches, free-for-all or in teams of two. If you have less than for real friends with you, Stikbold also has optional bots with various levels of AI difficulty. As I dug in beyond these basics it was at this point that Stikbold really started to impress me. Charged shots and curve balls add unpredictability to the real time gameplay, and its clear that truly competitive players have a lot of tools to play with and master. There is also plenty of variety in each of the games 5 levels featuring unique hazards such as beehives, crabs, or the ever dangerous hot dog cart. Each level also features unique harassments which downed players can semi-control in a sort of "revenge mini game". Frisbees, rock angels, or even streakers - the arch nemesis of any Stikbold player - all make an appearance. Rounding out this rather massive content-mound is a Story Mode with a light-hearted plot and a pile of challenges, achievements, and unlockable characters. Unlike many similar game jam inspired indie concepts, Stikbold has enough juice to keep me coming back to it again and again.

No Translation Necessary

Another way Stikbold goes above and beyond is the soundscape. Character dialog is either semi-gibberish or just a language I don't speak, but when coupled with the over-the-top plot of Story Mode it does an amazing job of capturing a 70s or 80s "comedy movie" feel. The problems our heroes encounter are usually only slightly less absurd than the solutions, and the cut scenes were entertaining segways to explain why you needed to throw things at the next group of unfortunate opponents in your Stikbold odyssey. In the background some sweet retro beats will have you putting on a head band and cranking the volume to eleven.

Hitting Friends with Balls

Stikbold certainly has a pretty surprising amount of single-player depth for a party game, but that can't take away from the fact that it is at its best when you are playing with a group of friends. The turn-abouts and comebacks are so frequent that cheering (and jeering) are almost involuntary. Even when you are out (which was probably just luck on your opponents part), you can still participate with harrassments to get the revenge you so rightly deserve. Play through Story Mode to unlock characters and see the quirky plot, but also to learn all the tricks you need to dominate when your friends come over for game night.