Regardless of when, how, or why the debate over whether pirates or ninjas are better began, Gamecock brings Blazing Lizard's deciding game to the Xbox 360. Whatever your level of interest in pirates, ninjas, or dodgeball, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball unfortunately fails to deliver much in the way of satisfying action.
If for some reason you are expecting a dedicated simulation of the schoolyard pastime, check your anticipation upon download. Instead of a contemporary blacktop and a host of prepubescent players, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball populates the matches with the titular characters. It also adds additional unlockable groups, including both robots and zombies. The Story mode gets underway with a series of two-versus-two matches in which you have to whittle down the health of the opposing team's players. As you complete the easier matches, you unlock additional three-versus-three and four-versus-four match types. You only control a single character, but can switch between team members at any time. As a player you can run, jump, throw, catch, deflect, and attack. Throwing with the X button can be varied between strong and light attacks depending on how long you hold the button. By pressing B, you can call in a pass to then unleash a powered-up attack to either deal additional damage or land a near-unavoidable throw.
Even though the character models look good enough to support the zany trappings of the game's concept, they borrow too heavily from other pop culture touchstones to be considered unique. The character close-ups in the story-light cutscenes are passable. For those who can get that far, the zombie storyline offers a surprising amount of adolescent humanity. It is the only payoff in an otherwise drab collection of narratives. Only one story is told in the game, but the cutscenes exist to reveal the characters' backstories, motivations, and oddities through flawed dialogue. In many instances, the characters are so annoying you wish you were on the opposite team just to beat them in the face with the red ball. Fortunately, there isn't much voice acting, otherwise, players might have another reason to play with the sound off in addition to the nauseating, continually looping, repetitive music.
Zombies are hard to distinguish from robots, and many times, the indicator used to identify which character you are controlling is so insufficient that you'll often lose your character in the crowd. Discerning your team from the opponents is further complicated by a problematic camera. The view is so pulled back and low to the ground that the similarly silhouetted characters are nearly identical on standard definition screens or small displays. Other problems that plague players are the result of the aforementioned camera being coupled with poor level design. Balls frequently hide behind objects, enemies hide behind obstacles, and some level trappings easily impair a critical dodge. Oddly enough, the camera in online matches will pitch helpfully to show your ninja in the low areas or pan to the side to reveal action in a properly framed view. It's a shame that didn't carry over into the single-player.
While it's easy enough to progress through the early two-versus-two encounters, the cheapness of the AI is revealed in later matches and larger team showdowns. Frequently, enemies will paralyze you with special attacks while their compatriots pummel you with ball strikes. Enemies can deviously avoid your advances, catch your throws, or nimbly deflect your attacks back at you. This frustrating cheapness is matched only by the AI's baffling inconsistency. When playing in Story mode, your teammates are nowhere nearly as able or effective as your adversaries. This becomes even more evident in online matches. If it weren't for the faulty hit detection, players would only have the poor AI to blame for losing lag-saturated, one-versus-one matches. Ultimately, you can play in up to three-versus-three ranked matches or four-versus-four player matches, but playing without a full room of friends is not fun.
At a price of 800 Microsoft points, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball delivers a short offline experience and a problematic online offering. Even if you enjoy dodgeball, you'll be hard pressed to find value in the absurd delivery, sluggish gameplay, cheap adversaries, and the monotonous single-player campaigns. Though there's some fun to be had with a roomful of friends, you're better off heading outside to start a real dodgeball game of your own.