I absolutely love the Kunio-Kun series. Over here, we got about 5 titles on the NES, all confusingly branded differently, whereas over in Japan, they got about a dozen, all confusingly branded differently. The unified artstyle, the cartoonish violence; the Kunio-Kun series is a special series for me for quite a few reasons.
Super Dodgeball is also pretty special to me. It’s a game I recall playing long ago with my father, back around its initial release. If I recall, mom was out of town for an evening so he took me to the convenience store and rented it. I thought it was volleyball. It’s also Kunio-kun’s second game, and also the second one to be localized after Renegade. However, I’ve only played the North American version, so now I’ve got the Japanese original to try out.
With that in mind, I’ll open by saying there isn’t much difference between the Japanese and international versions. So this is something of a review for both.
Historically, Super Dodgeball is a weird game. How we got from Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun (Renegade in North America), a beat-’em-up involving a high school badass to dodgeball is beyond me. The setup is that you’re controlling a high school dodgeball club as they travel the world and… Wow, wait. Do dodgeball teams travel the world? I guess considering how weird the later Kunio-Kun sports games get, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Anyway, the goal is to knock out your three opponents by hitting them with the dodgeball. The game establishes the series’ signature super-throws, allowing you to strike with powerful attacks from the air or ground. The super throws are key; mastering them means mastering the game. Jump and throw the ball from the apex of your arc, or simply throw after running a few steps, and you can whack the whole team of opponents.
You progress through a number of teams with different strengths and weaknesses. There’s also a bonus team to fight if you can get through without taking a loss on your own team. All in all, it can take a scant few minutes to finish the game if you’re able to nail your throws.
Being only the second game in the Nekketsu/Kunio-Kun series, the unified art style hadn’t quite been hammered down yet. The rectangular characters with beef-arms are starting to form, but they’re still a lot larger and lankier than their later design. However, there’s one place that the series always seemed to excel, and that’s with facial expressions.
It really helps the tangibly brutal sport of dodgeball to see your opponent’s face contort in a mix of surprise and pain when you hit them with a super throw. If there’s one thing that Super Dodgeball does well, it’s making your attacks feel impactful. Opponents are sent flying when hit by powerful throws, sometimes exiting one side of the screen and re-entering the other, Pac-Man style. It lets you know that you really caused some pain.
However, Super Dodgeball suffers from some major problems, which can either be easy or difficult to ignore, depending on what you expect from the game.
For starters, from a technical standpoint, the game is garbage. The scrolling of the backgrounds are incredibly choppy, the framerate drops considerably when there’s a lot on the screen (which is pretty much always), and the amount of flicker is criminal. Most designers of early 8-bit games carefully considered the size of their sprites and how they’d be placed in the world, but Technos didn’t seem to care when developing super dodgeball.
I don’t think I’ll ever
The most damning issue with the game, however, is its extremely low skill ceiling. Once you learn to nail the super throws, the game is over. You’re going to win because there’s not much the AI can do about it. This is an issue with the series as a whole; it’s too easy to master.
Multiplayer would improve things, but it’s extremely screwed up. You can pick any team you like, but they aren’t balanced against each other, so you either fight in a mirror match or someone has a tremendous advantage. At least in the Japanese version, players could create their own team from scratch.
Don’t get me wrong Super Dodgeball is a fun game while it lasts, but that’s not very long. To prepare for this review, I played through both the Japanese and North American versions, and that took me maybe an hour. I’ve hit the ceiling, I’m done. Mostly. There are other games in the series, but I can walk through them, as well.
If you’re a newcomer, however, Super Dodgeball is a great time. It nails the physicality of the sport in a fun and cartoony way. It’s lighthearted, funny, and fun to play. Just expect that to wear off before the afternoon does.
This review was conducted on an NES using cartridge copies of the North American and Japanese (with Honeybee Converter) versions. It was paid for by the author.