Super Dodge Ball Advance

System: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus Software
Release Date: June 11, 2001
ESRB rating: E (Everyone)
Locations found: I got the Japanese version on a ROM site, and it emulated fairly well, albeit without sound. That's probably been fixed by now. I also own the actual cartridge in English, which I found at a local game shop. Shouldn't be too rare.

This game is essentially an updated version of the cult classic Super Dodge Ball, ported to the Game Boy Advance, first in Japan and then translated for us English-speaking folks. It lacks the Bean Ball free-for-all mode, but aside from that, it is superior in almost every way.

The objective, of course, is to beat the snot out of the other team with a volleyball. It takes place on a rectangular court, bisected with a boundary line. Four players from each team stand inside their half of the court, while three others stand outside the opposite half for the added heckling ability they provide. The three out-of-bounds players are not allowed to run. Whoever is in posession of the ball chooses a target on the opposite side of the court and hurls the ball at him/her, and if lucky, will do some damage when the ball collides. Successful attacks cause a number to pop up at the collision site, denoting how much life has been knocked off of the player's life meter. When it reaches 0, the player turns into a little angel and floats off of the top of the screen. Failed attacks occur when the target ducks, catches the ball (which you can do by pressing B if you time it right), or flat-out isn't where the ball hits. Players cannot hold the ball while standing in the opposite team's court, and if their feet are touching the ground on the opposite side, they must surrender the ball.

Things get interesting when you throw the ball with good timing. After three steps of running, if you tap B just at the right time, the ball flashes gold and will either change shape, fly erratically, or do both. The name of the move is flashed on the screen while the ball is in this state. If you jump while running and throw the ball at or near the peak of the jump, it performs a different transformation/flight pattern. Some of my personal favorites are: hailstorm, which drops a series of smaller balls around the target; meteor, which changes the ball into a huge rock which shoots to above the target and drops straight down; insect shot, which buzzes around randomly, plowing through the team until someone catches it or it hits the far wall; and warp shot, which vanishes completely until it collides with someone or something.

All of this so far is the same as the old game, except for the new moves. In addition to that, however, is the capability of assists. By tapping L, a whistle blows and one of your team members runs up to the dividing line and jumps across it. If timed right, you can toss the ball to your friend while he/she is in mid-air, and then be launched at the enemy as a super-shot without you having to run at all. Or you can do a fake-out by throwing the ball yourself while your friend is sailing in the air towards them. Or you can run, jump across the line, call a friend over, toss the ball to them before you hit the ground, and then use them to do a super-shot. Also, if you pass the ball to a friend at the point in your jump or run that would let you do a super-shot, the ball glows yellow as it is passed, and if thrown before it stops glowing, will act as a super-shot without the thrower running. This lets your friends on the sidelines throw the much harder-hitting super-shots like Mach Throw, instead of doing the regular wimpy throw that they usually do.

As you can imagine, this works better in attempting to confuse a human opponent instead of a computer opponent, but I imagine the people at Atlus programmed the enemy AI to catch the ball less often if these tactics are used. Incidentally, the game does have two-player capability, with the Game Boy Advance link cable. With only one cartridge, the players are forced to use the USA team as I understand it, whereas with two cartridges, all the teams are playable.

Another added feature is the ability to challenge any team on the tournament ladder instead of simply going through each team until you win, and giving you the dreaded Game Over if you lose to any of them. Defeating teams near the top of the ladder lets you skip completely over other lower teams. However, this also means that you don't compete against every team, and if you simply challenge the top team every time, will also pit you against the same team three or four times.

As expected, the graphics have undergone a major facelift, considering that the previous game was for the NES. The sounds are improved somewhat as well, though I find the music less catchy - and I really miss the 'DHOOOOooom!' sound from the NES game when the enemies turned into angels, which has been replaced with a more high-tech sounding 'Shyoumf!'. The controls are nearly identical, quick to respond and easy to get used to. Difficulty settings have different effects, such as making the timing more demanding for super-shots and catches.

All in all, it is a great tribute to Super Dodge Ball, one that shouldn't be passed up by any fans of the original game.

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