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All-Star Slammin' D-Ball
  opened by paleface at 06:54:34 03/20/04  
  last modified by paleface at 07:05:51 03/20/04  
  paleface [sys=PS1; cat=Sports; loc=NA]
This game rules. All you homies who diss on it be trippin'.
Cute, fairly large 2D sprite characters, colorful courts and, most surprising of all, a rather hep (that's one rank below hip) techno/scratch soundtrack have been tucked away in what came to the States as a budget title. The sound effects in general are nicely done, with various ball whooshing sounds clearly indicating the type of throw being made, and some very distinctive cries of pain when different characters get whacked--I particularly like the alien one the Elementals make when they disintegrate into a puddle of goo.
Even so, I didn't like it at first. It will strike those used to Super Dodge Ball as exceedingly strict: limiting you by time (per possession and per game), number of passes allowed per possession, limiting you to doing super moves only once you've powered up the character by having them catch the ball, and limiting each character to a single hit--one hit and they're out. I disliked this at first but now it feels nice and clean-cut--and the screen isn't littered up with health meters.
Then there's the AI: at first timid and fudge-fingered, they eventually become invincible godlike beings capable of leaping halfway across your side of the court to peg you in the back if you've lingered too long at the midline. Ouch. They are absolutely merciless in their counterattack if you screw up and whiff a deep leap-in attack.
Dodgeball wimps, then, need not apply. The game also takes some playing to begin to figure out--for a long time I felt like I was just throwing the ball back each time I got it, hoping for a lucky hit, and getting pegged unfairly in the back by the AI. Then I learned strategy (stay away from the midline unless you see someone you can snipe yourself) and the use of the power moves, and things started to make sense. The tough AI and the catch-to-powerup system give a definite ebb and flow to the game, and you have to choose your power move carefully or else you've wasted all that charging.
Still, the game has problems. Most of the special moves are useless--slower than regular moves and easier to anticipate. Just poor design there. A lot of the power move inputs are sort of awkward to do in an isometric view, because you have to do circle motions with the joystick that swing your character all over the court. The jump height is low, so it's hard to get the inputs done in time on air jumps. These things put me off to the whole power move thing at first, but eventually you learn a few useful ones and can ignore the other useless/annoying ones.
There's no point at all in passing, at least against the CPU. It simplifies things a lot, knowing this--for a long time I was trying to "get the drop on it" by passing around, but the AI doesn't bat an eye at that and I think even against humans it wouldn't be anywhere near as effective as it is in other dodgeball games, because the passing is slow.
The most pernicious and subtle quirk, though, is the timing of input for jump attacks: to get any real speed and distance, you don't press jump first and then attack while in midair, you press both buttons simultaneously. Go figure that one out. The interesting thing is that this will force you to make a strategic decision just before you jump: are you going to delay the throw so as to leap past an opponent and nail him from behind, or are you going to press Throw immediately and go for max power and distance?
You gotta really watch it on jumping attack though. For one thing, the ball can do weird stuff at the midline or along the sides of the court--I've seen times where a character seems to catch their own pass, or starts to turn the ball over for being out of bounds, then seems to get it back. And there's a mysterious control hitch as you try to run back to side after jumping across the midline, which unfortunately occurs just when the opponent is usually counterattacking you. Bleh.
Still, I have a fondness for this game now. Most folks won't give a budget game the kind of time needed to crack D-Ball's rigid exterior. And certainly there are lots of dodgeball games that are easier to get in to. But this game has some innovations worth checking out if you're in to the whole dodgeball game scene.
-- You know, that's an odd thing isn't it. I take it dodgeball might be a somewhat common schoolyard sport or something in Japan, but it sure isn't over here. So here we are obsessing about cartoonish games simulating a sport that we've never even really seen, much less played. Well I am, anyway. Funny.
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