Dodgeball is well on its way to becoming extinct.
Schools in Maine, Maryland, New York, and Virginia have already banned the sport, and NASPE, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, has condemned it as exclusionary, particularly for the “slower, less agile” students. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, however, there was no better way of establishing the 4th Grade social hierarchy. Dodgeball was violent and exciting, and there was a crude Darwinism to it – only the strongest kids with the quickest reflexes survived.
Thus, a dodgeball video game was perfect escapism for the “slower, less agile” among us – myself included. In 1988, Technos Japan Corp. released Super Dodge Ball for the NES, a port of the original, Japanese arcade game. Even though the arcade game had better graphics, the NES version was superior. It provided additional levels, more teams, and increased variety to its characters. Today, Super Dodge Ball is a bona-fide classic - its dark sense of humor and its aggressive, American nationalism set it apart from other sports games at the time.
Before Team USA could take on the world, however, they first had to take on the All-Stars, to determine who would represent America in the World Cup Tournament. The All-Stars level was the perfect way to start things off. It had the best music in the game with the possible exception of the final, ‘secret’ stage – more on that later. In the background, one could see the Statue of Liberty, skyscrapers, and red, white, and blue – an explosion of American pride.
The other nations in the game had their own unique characterizations. Team Iceland was a crew of powerful bastards, and their captain, Helgi, had a special move that could turn the ball invisible. The stage itself was a literal “ice land,” with penguin spectators and an icy court that made the players slip and slide.
Team China was defense oriented, with superior catching skills. Their court was in the middle of Tiananmen Square, and you could actually see Chairman Mao’s face in the background. Speaking of notable stage settings, Team Kenya fought against the backdrop of a beautiful, African sunset. They also played on a dirt court – perfect for charging up Power Shots against unsuspecting opponents.
Team India was, by far, the biggest pain in the ass. They dodged everything you threw at them, and their play style was plain irritating – a glorified game of ‘keep away’ with the ball. They also had a team member who was damn near un-killable – Swami only took 1-2 points of damage on every hit, even on Power Shots. India was only the third opponent in the game, but they took a full ten minutes to kill.
The final team was U.S.S.R. Super Dodge Ball was developed prior to the end of the Cold War, and the final level reached Rocky IV levels of American nationalism. It was the monolithic, overpowered Russians versus the scrappy, but resourceful Americans, and of course, the Americans came out on top. It’s strange to see this sort of patriotic peacocking now, and to reflect on how our nation’s concerns have changed since 1988.
So you beat Russia, and you thought the game was over, but wait! The strobe lights went off, and suddenly, you were fighting Team Shadow – a nega-doppelganger Team USA, with twice the endurance and twice the power. Team Shadow was by far the most challenging team – they caught damn near everything, and every other shot they threw was a Power Shot. It took a bit of strategy to emerge victorious.
Yes, strategy. It’s weird to think that a game this rudimentary looking could require strategy, but it does, and this is what makes it endure over twenty years later. For example, you could use your opponents’ throw recovery time to sneak in your own counter throw. You could move the ball around to fake out and then strike an opponent that was facing away from you. You could intercept opponents’ passes with a carefully timed jump. You could strategically select which players to use against which opponents, compare their stats, and play off their strengths and weaknesses. Head games were essential to mastering Super Dodge Ball, particularly in versus mode, where you could play as any national team. Head games were also essential to Bean Ball Mode – a 6-way, ‘every man for himself’ battle royale.
Funny, fun, easy to learn, and surprisingly deep – these qualities all make Super Dodge Ball a memorable, if anachronistic, throwback game that still holds up today. Super Dodge Ball made us feel, for an instant, like the biggest kid at school. We may not have been able to take down the asshole on the playground, but we could kill Swami, Fuji, Boris, and Yemi, and send them up to heaven as little, pixelated angels. Sweet, vicarious revenge – that’s what Super Dodge Ball was all about.