One of the best things about the Kunio-kun series is that although it is understandably primarily associated with the beat ’em up genre — it did pretty much invent the modern form of the beat ’em up with Nekketsu Renegade Kunio-kun, after all — it has actually done a wide variety of thoroughly interesting things over the years. And this started with the series’ second installment Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club, perhaps better known by its western localised title Super Dodge Ball.
We’ll be referring to the game as Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club hereafter, since as previously noted we’re looking at the newly localised Japanese versions from the Double Dragon and Kunio-Kun Retro Brawler Bundle. Super Dodge Ball doesn’t make many significant changes to the format of Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club aside from westernising a lot of names and changing the order of the stages in the single-player mode, so everything we’re going to talk about today also applies to the western version.
In Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club, you once again take on the role of Kunio-kun, who this time around is the captain of the school dodgeball team. Evidently Hot-Blooded High has a pretty good dodgeball team, because the game’s main single player mode sees them jetting off on a worldwide tour to take on teams from every corner of the globe. Your ultimate aim, of course, is to establish dominance on every one of these dodgeball courts.
Dodgeball is a sport that seems to have a wide variety of different rules depending on who you talk to, ranging from the simplistic “everyone on the outside of a circle throws balls at everyone inside the circle” to more formalised, structured rules established by organisational bodies. The form seen in Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club is closer to the latter form of dodgeball, though retains a certain amount of scrappiness to it that makes it feel rather more like a street sport than something with more formal organisation and governance.
Each team in Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club consists of six players. Three of these stand in their inner court, while the other three stand outside the opponents’ inner court. The aim of the game is for one team to knock down the three members in the opposing inner court; those on the outside are primarily there for support, but they can contribute in their own ways.
The primary means by which you go about this is by making shots. A simple tap of the B button makes a shot, and the throw can be bent in the air by using the directional pad, allowing for some cheeky unexpected spin. More often than not, though, standard shots are so slow that your opponent will catch them easily, allowing them the opportunity to hurl the ball right on back at you — at which point you’ll need to either avoid or catch it.
Things get a bit more interesting if you run before making a shot, which is achieved by double-tapping a horizontal direction, just like in Renegade. There are three types of shot you can make while running: a running normal shot, which is a bit more likely to hit than a simple regular shot; a power shot, achieved by starting to run then holding the shoot button; and a super shot, achieved by running the full length of the inner court and pressing the shoot button with proper timing.
Each of these types of shot is progressively more difficult to catch or avoid, and does more damage if it connects with an unprepared opponent — but, as you might expect, getting the proper timing takes a bit of practice.
And essentially that’s all there is to Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club on a basic level. As you progress through the single-player World Tour mode, you’ll face off against a variety of different teams, each of whom bring their own distinctive considerations to the table.
The Indian team, for example, has very low HP but super-high defense and a tendency to make use of rapid passes to confuse you prior to taking a shot; the Russian team has dauntingly high HP but is quite easy to hit; the Icelandic team plays on slippery ice, because as everyone knows, Iceland is made of ice; and the South African team’s hard dirt court means it takes longer to get up to speed when running.
These might not sound like big differences, but you’ll find you have to change up your strategy quite a bit in order to defeat each of the teams, particularly once you get into the more difficult, later stages of the game. In order to topple the toughest opponents, you’ll need to master the timing of catching their shots — even their power and super shots — and, ideally, fling them straight back to hit them in their rear while they’re running back into position.
It’s quite surprising just how much of a beat ’em up feel there is to Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club, even though it’s a sports game. The inherently combative nature of the game’s take on dodgeball gives a strong feeling that you’re really “fighting” for victory, and there’s a wonderful sense of impact upon successful shots — well-executed power and super shots can send opponents flying right off the screen in an immensely satisfying manner, and the implication that you’re outright killing your opponents by dropping their HP to zero – they flutter off with a halo and angel wings — is darkly amusing.
Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club is also where Technos Japan settled on the overall look and feel for the Kunio-kun series as a whole; after Nekketsu Renegade Kunio-kun featured relatively realistically proportioned characters (albeit with Muppet mouths in many cases), Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club establishes the somewhat “chibi” aesthetic that most of the other games in the series’ 8-bit era adopted.
This is all accompanied by some excellent music that, although somewhat prone to predictable stereotypes (particularly on the Chinese stage), makes for an excellent, energetic complement to the game’s action.
Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club takes a bit of getting into; I wouldn’t fault anyone for bouncing off it after a quick go, believing it to be shallow or unintuitive. You can level the exact same accusations at Nekketsu Renegade Kunio-kun — but just like that game, Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club rewards continued engagement and a concerted attempt to understand its mechanics. Mastery of what the game offers won’t come quickly, but it’s rewarding when it does — and in the meantime, the multiplayer mode is great fun, too.
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