Find out what inspired this excellent Switch game and which Pokémon team would have its main character.
Sometimes it’s the humble games that take you by surprise. This is exactly what happened to me with Dodgeball Academia, a release earlier this year that features great dodgeball battles, fun RPG mechanics, and an adorable world and story. Humble Games released it on Switch, continuing its track record on the platform (Carto still rules). The developer was Pocket Trap, a Brazilian studio that released Ninjin: Clash of Carrots on Switch back in 2018 (we loved it). As enjoyable as Ninjin was, Dodgeball Academia blew it out of the water and delivered one of my personal favorite games of 2021 so far.
I had the chance to ask Henrique Alonso from Pocket Trap a few questions about Pocket Trap’s history, inspiration, and more. I even smuggled in some Pokémon questions because fights with kids at school still remind me of Pokémon Trainer battles, and the infirmary is basically just a Pokémon Center!
Nintendo World Report (NWR): How has your experience of working on other games influenced your thinking process for Dodgeball Academia?
Henrique Alonso (HA): Dodgeball is our first experience developing a sports game and a role-playing game. Before that, we released Ninjin: Clash of Carrots, which was more of an arcade game that mixed shoot ’em ups and beat’ em ups. Dodgeball Academia is a whole different story. We have this background in working with action games so I think it helped a lot with the dodgeball matches as well as the general experience of knowing what to do and how the process works. It helped us to know what we were doing and, for example, figured out the timing. Our experience porting the game to other consoles like the Nintendo Switch was also very useful. We were a lot more willing to port the game to the Nintendo Switch system than we were for our first game.
NWR: Dodgeball Academia definitely has a sports-anime vibe to it. Were there certain stories that you wanted to capture?
HE HAS: I think we focused on delivering a story that wasn’t just inspired by sports anime, but shonen anime as a whole – and cartoons as well. We wanted it to feel cozy, like telling the local adventures of a school. Usually role-playing games tell these epic stories in which the character starts small and ends up defeating the villain who threatens the universe. For Dodgeball Academia, we wanted the story to focus on school situations like dealing with bullies and teachers’ projects while having the tournament arc. The tournament is a very important part of the story to guide the character through the school year and to feel the player as the game progresses.
We tried to bring a lot of personal experience into the game. For example, situations that we experienced when we were back in school. The whole project has a nostalgic vibe of going to school and practicing dodgeball, with references to the sports anime we grew up with and loved.
NWR: While playing, I noticed that the first chapters gently relax in the player (from 1 player to 2 players to 3 players to more chaos). How did you borrow that particular tutorial cadence for the game? Were there any other forms of this opening?
HE HAS: We knew we wanted a sports RPG game where you play dodgeball battles, but dodgeball has some restrictions and rules on what you can do in dodgeball. We tried to add as much variety as possible, starting with the introduction of new characters with different throws and abilities. I think it’s important that the player doesn’t feel too overwhelmed at the beginning. We wanted to build a journey where you start small and then start gathering new students to join the team. While the basic gameplay can get a little repetitive since you’re always playing dodgeball, we wanted to make sure that each episode brings something new to the table.
NWR: I’m a huge fan of the Kunio Super Dodgeball games and this felt like one of the few games that got the feel of those old games in a nutshell. What do you think is the key to how you managed to balance the throw / catch / counter gameplay so that it is fun throughout the story?
HE HAS: We grew up with these games too – especially arcade Super Dodgeball, which was more of a fighting game. It was a huge challenge for us to adapt this game to a single player story-focused RPG environment. We tried to bring as many different mechanics, throws and balls into play as possible. We wanted more promotions, but some were cut because we have a limited amount of resources and we have to stick to a schedule. It was very important to us to give the player the opportunity to choose the character they like the most, put together their special team, and have equipment that brings a reasonable variety to the game, which your group can do as they please can customize. It was very important to us to bring the various ball ultimates and mechanics so that you can customize your team and we can call the game an RPG.
NWR: The single player story seems to be the focus, but there is still local multiplayer here. Have there ever been any plans for online multiplayer, or perhaps a more sophisticated multiplayer component? Any reasons why it didn’t happen?
HE HAS: We would like that. The game started with a lot of inspiration from the Super Dodgeball games which were mostly focused on multiplayer and versus. When we started developing the game we started with a versus mode before developing the AI as we wanted to see how the game worked and what it felt like. We also knew that the game’s focus was on this single player story RPG. As much as we would have loved to have a multiplayer focus, we somehow had to make up our minds and opted for the single player path. When we got to the end of production we actually decided to include the versus local mode as it was a very fun extra for us at least. We wanted people to experience Boris, for example, and have the chance to play as Boris – a character that doesn’t belong to your group. It also gives you a nostalgic feel for unlocking characters as you play through the story. We played a lot of PlayStation and Nintendo 64 era games that usually had this local bonus multiplayer and we wanted to bring that into the game.
Maybe we can introduce an expansion with online multiplayer in the future. I know a lot of people would like this, but there is a lot of work behind it as not all characters are balanced or work as intended when you include them in a multiplayer participation. Most were made for the AI to control. It’s a lot of work, but you never know – maybe in the future.
NWR: Fighting random kids on the school grounds felt like Pokémon trainer battles. Was that a conscious decision? If so, are there any other specific Pokemon references (that infirmary feel like a Pokecenter comes to mind!)?
HE HAS: I love that question! Yeah, I think it’s obvious that we love Pokemon and Nintendo as a whole. We grew up with Paper Mario and Pokemon is one of my all time favorite games. I wouldn’t say it was really a conscious choice. It was a more natural thing for us because at some point we had to add more battles to the game and we didn’t want them to be random.
NWR: If Pokemon is indeed an influence / interest, what would Otto’s ideal Pokemon list be?
HE HAS: Otto takes inspiration from the dog of the co-creator and art director of Dodgeball Academia, Ivan. So Otto definitely needs a Fire-Type Dog Pokémon. He would likely start with Growlithe or Arcanine as the starter Pokémon. I think he has an Ash Ketchum vibe where he wants to adopt everyone and bring everyone on his team. I think he’d have some Pokémon there that weren’t considered useful or popular, like maybe Luvdisc. Luvdisc, Toxicroak, who has that big chin … haha. In the game we have George who takes care of the school and has that huge chin and a lot of jokes associated with it, so Toxicroak would be on Otto’s team. Then another Fire Pokémon like Victini … Voltorb, since he’s a Ball Pokémon, so that Otto could practice dangerous dodgeball with him. And maybe Ditto, because Ditto has this ability to joke, like Ditto to look like Balloony. That would probably be his party.
NWR: Were there characters in the game that you wanted to make playable but didn’t succeed in the final game?
HE HAS: Yes there was. I really wanted Squid to be one of the playable characters, but in the end we had to make her an opponent. We’ve had some characters that never made it, and maybe they can come and join the team in the future. At some point, I really wanted Vampy to join the team as she is a personal favorite. Overall, however, I am very satisfied with the squad and Otto’s team.
NWR: Which Nintendo character would be the best at dodgeball and why?
HE HAS: I would probably say Kirby because he could pick up and throw back any balls thrown at him. Maybe Yoshi too, because he could eat the balls and throw them back (laughs). Donkey Kong would have the strongest throw ever. It could be a very fun game. If Nintendo would like to hire us to develop a Super Mario Dodgeball game, please invite us! We like to work on that.