EIEIO 08: Hands-on with Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball

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EIEIO 08: Hands-on with Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball

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I'm a big fan of the Super Dodgeball games, and of the Kunio series in general. I played tons of dodgeball on the NES and GBA, and I've been watching the development of the DS game with more than enthusiasm. So when I first heard about the Xbox Live Arcade Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball, I was very curious about a non-Technos take on the sport; what would Blazing Lizard do to distinguish their game from what seems like the final word in dodgeball games? Besides filling it full of Internet memes, of course.

Surprisingly, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball has very little in common with Technos' masterpiece. Aside from the fact that pudgy characters throw balls at each other, the two games play almost totally differently. They might as well represent two totally different sports.
Unlike Super Dodgeball, there are no court boundaries in Pirates vs. Ninjas. Teams are not restricted to one side of the court, but are free to roam around. In addition, there are at most four players per team (online, with two per team offline). There aren't any support players on the sides like there are in Super Dodgeball. This simple removal of the line between teams changes the gameplay significantly. It is, in fact, the catalyst for almost every difference between the two games. No matter where the ball lands, it's fair game for any player on the court. There's no back-and-forth; every single shot is open. Someone really awesome at Dodgeball could completely dominate the game. Super Dodgeball has a similar mode called Bean Ball, but that lacks any team structure.

Because the players are now able to compete for the ball, they now need combat abilities. Beating on another player dizzies them, delaying their run for the ball. It doesn't hurt, though -- only a hit from a dodgeball can do that. The teams all have different attributes, as well: ninjas are faster, and zombies have stronger defenses. Each character, in addition, has a special move that is activated with the Y button. Samantha on the Pirate team can "charm" another character temporarily, switching them to her team. Hideki the (confusingly robotic) ninja can activate stealth mode, just like Metal Gear Solid's Grey Fox, who he looks exactly like.

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In addition to the combat, the change in layout means that aiming is much harder. In the Super Dodgeball games, aiming is mostly automatic: the ball basically hits whoever is closest to you on the other side. In Pirates vs. Ninjas, if you're moving (which is all the time) you have to aim your shots manually. For me, this meant that I could never get a good shot in ever, unless I just passed to an AI teammate.

The game is expected to be released this month, but it can be difficult to nail down XBLA releases precisely. It'll definitely be the only game to take full advantage of the hilarity of the pirates vs. ninjas fad whenever it does.
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