Knockout City's colorful, cartoonish aesthetic plays host to a relatively straightforward game of dodgeball, putting two teams against each other in a war waged with red rubber balls. But once you start factoring in deployable gliders, balls that can trap opponents in cages, and throwing techniques that can bend your shots around corners, Knockout City's identity starts to bubble to the surface. In between the satisfying thunks of direct hits and the grace of each character's movements, Knockout City features a satisfying level of depth that balances its pickup-and-play nature with a compelling competitive element that's difficult to walk away from.
Each of Knockout City's rotating modes rests on the fundamentals of finding a ball and trying to hit opposing players twice with it for a knockout, racking up your team's score in the process. Knockout City makes this both simple and satisfying by automatically targeting enemies for you, but giving you control over the distance and power of each throw. You can take a longer time to charge up for a faster swing of the arm but expose yourself in the process by limiting your movement speed to do so. Judging how much power to put behind a shot and balancing that with the distance between you and another player is critical, and just one of the many micro-decisions you'll need to make during each skirmish.
The balance between the two creates a dynamic that allows Knockout City to be approachable enough for casual play but still retain smaller complexities for competitive play to leverage. And when you start coming up against more savvy foes, additional mechanics start becoming more important. Just like in the real game of dodgeball, you can catch balls tossed your way to avoid taking a hit. In Knockout City, this applies a stacking effect to the ball, causing it to travel faster if thrown again quickly after being caught. You can quickly find yourself in an escalating ping pong match with another player, adjusting to shrinking catch timing windows with each exchange. Without the need to manually target enemies, Knockout City allows you to focus on timing and positioning instead, which makes its fast-paced action more manageable.
With a straightforward approach to how the action plays out, Knockout City also offers a limited number of ways to change up how these exchanges occur to constantly keep you on your feet. You can pump-fake a throw, for example, to try and catch an opponent off guard, or change the flight of your throws with two different jumps that either curl or lob your throw, respectively. Each of these moves is meant to give you different ways to catch out enemies, but also teach you that the same can be done back. These throw variants offer some intense moment-to-moment gameplay decisions, too. An opponent who is running for cover might be caught blindsided by a ball that manages to curve around an object they assumed they were safe behind, while a lobbed throw can trick a foe into thinking that you aren't even equipped with a ball before having one land on their head.
All of these allow you to contribute to team play in a solo manner without needing to engage with more party-focused strategies, which makes it easy to feel like you're making a difference in a match without explicitly needing to communicate over voice chat. There are still some nuances at play where communication is a benefit, however. During matches, you can roll up into a ball and turn into a projectile that a teammate can throw, instantly knocking out enemies if you happen to connect with them. Better still, a teammate can charge their throw and turn you into an airborne bomb, which you can subtly control to take out multiple foes at once. Both of these strategies work best when you're directly communicating with a team, and as such don't feature that heavily in solo matchmaking. That said, Knockout City's matches don't necessitate this single mechanic.
Each of the game's maps offers a theme that changes up the flow of matches. Rooftop Rumble takes place between two skyscrapers with only a single route between them, but lets you use your glider to catch the wind and get the drop on enemies (though you have access to the glider in all Knockout City's matches, this is, surprisingly, the only map where the glider feels useful). Back Alley Brawl has three color-coded tube systems that can quickly transport you to hotspots on the map, while Knockout Roundabout has a flowing stream of traffic that can knock you down and leave you vulnerable to enemy attacks. All of them are small and compact, letting opposing teams find each other fast and keep the action flowing. They also all have great vertical options, rewarding you if you take the time to learn where you can best launch a ball from to make a reply challenging.
Each map is equipped with numerous spawn points for balls, but also additional points where random special balls will appear. One is a football-like ball that acts as a long-range, fast-moving sniper shot, while another, shaped like an iron cage, traps a player in a ball for a few seconds, creating the opportunity to grab and throw them off the map if you're quick enough. There are some special balls that influence the flow of a match far more than others (one that lets you carry three balls at once is a standout, and the sniper-like attack can really make you second-guess your catching timing), but I often found myself gravitating towards the stock standard red balls on most occasions because the chaotic nature of skirmishes already made it hard to get off normally charged shots, nevermind ones with even longer wind-up times. And since most matches only include one type at a time, the random nature of the selections can result in a string of matches where you're just assigned the same one repeatedly.
Gameplay is only marginally altered by the handful of modes on offer, each of which are set to be rotated on a weekly basis. The standard 3v3 battle mode is a staple and easily the best mode in Knockout City currently, honing in on the game's engrossing moment-to-moment action and letting it play out over a best of three-round format. Other variations, such as Diamond Dash, featured diamonds exploding out of defeated foes for you to collect in order to score (like the staple Call of Duty mode, Kill Confirmed). Another variation swaps out all regular balls with special ones, which gives them more opportunity to shine but also ends up being a dash for specific ones over the less useful options. There's some nail-biting fun to be had in the duels of the limited 1v1 mode, but outside of that, it's difficult not to recommend just the standard 3v3 battles that let Knockout City's refined action shine for itself. Ranked Play lets you also match with players ready to take the game more competitively too, with seasons planned out for the foreseeable future.
Like many other live-service multiplayer titles, Knockout City features its own spin on a Battle Pass and rotating player challenges that feed into progression in-between matches. Given that Knockout City isn't free (it's $20 after this initial 10-day free pass), it's good to see that these aren't restricted behind an additional paywall. Instead, you earn in-game currency, unlock items, and partake in daily, weekly, and seasonal challenges by default, letting you purchase and acquire items to customize your in-game character. You can purchase additional in-game currency for a fee, but none of the cosmetics give you an advantage in-game (a fact the in-game announcer loves to joke about every time you open the store). Knockout City's blend of futurism and '80s greaser aesthetics are well represented in a wide variety of clothing and accessory options, each of which goes a long way to making you stand out online.
Knockout City's greatest strengths lie in its simplicity, but also in the ways it remixes traditional multiplayer elements to create something distinct. Its easy-going nature and straightforward mechanics reduce the time it takes to feel invested in each match, but it's really the subtle complexity underneath that keeps the action engaging and compelling over long play sessions. There's certainly room for improvement with the game's rotating match modes and some of its special ball types, but Knockout City nails the fundamentals to create multiplayer fun that will likely hook you for a long time to come.