Developer: Blazing Lizard
Release Date: September 3, 2008
It started as one of those Internet memes: Who would win in a fight between pirates and ninjas? Of course, there was no clear answer to this question, but lots of people have had some fun with it by taking the idea and making all sorts of Web sites and Internet forums discussing this one question alone. Gamecock has decided to become part of the phenomenon by taking pirates and ninjas and pitting them against each other in a friendly game of dodgeball. Not content to leave well enough alone, they decided to add two other popular groups to the mix: robots and zombies. On paper, the idea of settling this dispute over a game where you beat up on each other by using red rubber balls sounds like a good idea for some lighthearted fun. Unfortunately, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball for the Xbox Live Arcade is anything but fun. The game is a flawed experience that has too many issues that can't hold the experience together properly.
The premise for Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball is to take your chosen group (ninjas, pirates, robots or zombies) and battle it out against another group in a game of dodgeball. There are three available variants of dodgeball. The first mode is classic dodgeball, which is the same type of game played in playgrounds across the nation. Each team occupies one side of the field and tries to throw dodgeballs at each other without getting tagged themselves. Getting hit by a ball reduces your energy, and running out of energy boots you from the game. The first team to have all of its players eliminated loses. Only regular shots count in this mode. The second is enhanced dodgeball, which is the same as classic dodgeball but with a small twist. Players can go past the middle line and into the opponent's territory for three seconds before being sent back to their side of the field, and power shots are valid here. The final variant is combat dodgeball. Here, players can traverse the whole field instead of being restricted to specific sides, but the objective remains the same: keep hitting opponents until their energy runs out.
Single-player mode is divided into three different modes. Training lets you play around with your character and practice all of his regular and special moves. Exhibition mode lets you play a 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4 match against the computer in all three dodgeball variations. The real heart of the single-player mode lies with Story mode, where you can go through the story from the perspective of the pirates or the ninjas (robots and zombies are playable after completing pirates and ninjas). You play through three levels, each in different variations of dodgeball. With each character group, you go through 2v2 before embarking on 3v3 then 4v4.
The problem with the single-player component is that it's very short. All three 2v2 matches in Story mode for one character set takes a total of six minutes to beat. The game tries to lengthen it by making you go through the story with 3v3 and 4v4, but they only take a minute longer than 2v2 mode. As a result, average gamers will have no problem breezing through all four groups in all match types. This presents the game with little to no longevity for the solo player. It also doesn't help that going through Story mode only unlocks other pieces of Story mode. In an exhibition match, players have access to all four groups, negating the need to go through Story mode at all except for those interested in Achievements.
Another problem plaguing Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball is camera angles. The game is shot from a third-person perspective but close enough to see both the detail in the game as well as all of the action. This would be fine if it weren't for the fact that the environments feature so many elements for players to hide behind. This isn't too noticeable in the zombie graveyard, and it's not too bad in the pirate shores. However, when you get to the robot factory and the ninja temple, you'll be cursing at the environments for making you lose track of your players at inopportune times, thanks to raised levels and other objects obscuring your view.
None of this is helped by the fact that the four groups only differ in their appearances. While one would expect zombies to be very slow and robots to be extremely tough to beat, for example, that isn't the case here. A zombie moves just as quickly as a pirate, ninja or robot, and everyone seems to be able to take the same amount of hits before expiring. With the only differences between the four groups being aesthetic, it gives even less reason to care about who you choose to play as.
Multiplayer fares a little better than single-player in this case, though not by much. There's a co-op mode for those who want to take their friends along through the Story mode. You also have a Versus mode for 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 that can be done locally or over Xbox Live. There are a few players on Live playing the game, and lag doesn't seem to be an issue at all. Unfortunately, multiplayer will only be enjoyable if you ignore all of the problems that are present throughout the rest of the game.
Controls are the one bright spot here. It's easy to pick up and play Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball after one short tutorial session. You can throw the ball with the X button, jump with the A button and catch or pass the ball with B. The Y button handles special abilities and throws, while the right thumbstick lets your player dodge in any direction. The controls handle themselves pretty well with their precision and don't really give you too much trouble when you're playing the game.
Graphics are pretty standard for a downloadable title, and the environments are average-looking. Though the movement of snow in the ninja temple stage is pretty cool the first time you see it, none of the stages stand out as being graphically amazing. The character models also follow that average theme. Though you have some nice parodies of Captain Jack Sparrow on the pirates side and Grey Fox on the ninja side, none of the other character models really amaze.
The sound and music in Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball are serviceable. Nothing stands out as being particularly bad, but nothing is any memorable either. The same goes for the sound effects. The sounds of the ball hitting the opponent are nice, as are the grunts coming from the characters when they get hit. Environmental effects also come out nicely, but sometimes they come out a bit too low in the volume department, making it difficult to tell if you successfully hit a player or missed.
Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball could have been a good title. Outside of the initial joke of having pirates and ninjas battle it out on a dodgeball field, there could have been a solid game here that would take players back to the days of Super Dodge Ball on the original NES, which is still considered one of the best dodgeball games on the market. However, the bad camera angles, unnecessary fatigue system and limited environments really hurt the title. With a planned release for the Nintendo Wii in 2009, there is hope that the game will significantly improve into something that will be a ton of fun in multiplayer. Until then, however, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball is a title that can't be recommended beyond the demo.
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