Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball
I thought the whole ninja versus pirate Internet fad died down a couple years ago, but I was wrong. At least these two iconic groups still manage a few chuckles in Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball, with the help of some zombies and robots (why no dinosaurs?). It’s just that some major problems prevent this Xbox Live Arcade title from being anything more than a chaotic blend of heavy actions and broken gameplay.
The several modes can have up to four people on each team. The traditional mode most resembles the seminal Super Dodge Ball on the NES, where there is a line that can’t be crossed. The tiny characters, who remind me of LEGO men on a massive playset, have to chuck the ball to deal damage. The ball can be caught, swatted back or dodged. In the enhanced mode, the line can be crossed for several seconds, in order to grab a ball on the other side or perform other acts of mischief. The combat mode has no boundaries splitting the teams. Anything goes here. Anything except a decent camera to frame the action.
Like most people, I have incredibly fond memories of dodgeball in gym class. Nailing unsuspecting people in the gut was a lot of fun. For sheer terror, try being the last person remaining and having a dozen people angrily hurling balls at you. I guess I can see why it was banned at my school. Confusion due to a flurry of action is fine in real life, but it’s a mess in Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball. When all the characters are spread out, the camera pans back in order to show everyone on the screen. It’s hard enough to see what’s going on to begin with, but when it’s zoomed out like this it’s taken to new levels of awful.
I would run around, uncertain if I had the ball or not. Other times I would walk over a ball to pick it up, only to miss because I was slightly off and it’s difficult to gauge depth. Some characters look similar, which further mucks up things. Precision is the key for catching the enemy’s balls (that sounds dirty), but it doesn’t exactly work out that well when everything is so hard to view. Granted, I’m not playing the game on a massive plasma screen, but I’ve never had an issue with my 27 inch television before.
The robot stage, Fear Factory, is the worst offender because of various objects obstructing the view. That means 25 percent of the stages are terrible since this stage is just one of four available. Of course, this is “only” a downloadable title, but four stages just aren’t enough. The other stages, at least compared to Fear Factory, are fairly well-made despite the problems that plague the game. The graphics are vibrant, and each battleground has catchy music appropriate to the different factions. Another nice touch is the dialogue in between the story missions. It’s always silly, but there are some clever bits that make playing through the same stages over and over again almost worthwhile.
There are moments, particularly when playing with a handful of human opponents, when it’s easy to enjoy all the madness on the screen. Balls fly from all directions while a zany bunch of zombies/ninjas/robots/pirates hustle about. The game is easy for anyone to pick up and play and there are also a good number of options despite the absolute dearth of stages. Due to the inability to comprehend what exactly is going on, the playing field will be mostly level. That pleasure doesn’t last too long after getting hit by some cheap shots due to poor design. The characters need to be larger or the stages need to be smaller. As it stands, the “athletes” in Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball look like people lost in a vast sea.