Backlog Battle: Week 6

Jacob Nash

Week 6Live… But Not For Long

Knockout City and Ninjala

This week’s article will be somewhat special, as the featured games have only recently become of any interest to me. This is due to them belonging in the shared category of live service games. A live service game has one goal, which is to keep players coming back to the game as frequently as possible. These games, if successful, can be updated for years to come. But if they cannot retain a proper player base, then they may have their servers shut down for good. Online multiplayer games need servers to connect players from around the world, so no servers means no game. So what took me so long to get to these games? Simply put, I didn’t have any interest in them until recently. If I don’t play them now, I might never get to play them ever again. My interest is piqued, but it might be too little, too late.

Knockout City

The first quarter of 2023 has seen numerous live service games announce their imminent shutdowns. One of these games is Knockout City, which was released in the middle of 2021. It is set to shut down in June of this year, giving it a paltry two years in the sun. Compare this to Fortnite, perhaps the most famous live service game, which has managed to retain its player base for around five years. Live service games are a massive time investment; you need to play almost every day to not miss out on events and items. This model has not been sustainable if the mass exodus of live service games is anything to go by. Players don’t have the infinite amount of time that these games need to maximize profits, which means that many neat games get an early grave. But enough eulogizing; how does Knockout City play?

Knockout City is a free to play, three-versus-three team game inspired by dodgeball. The goal is to work with your teammates to score more knockouts on your opponents than they do on you. Matches take place on spacious arenas littered with balls that you can pick up and throw. Hitting an opponent with a ball will remove a piece of their health, and fully depleting their health will net you a point. You can also gain points by knocking opponents off of the arena. To avoid getting knocked out, you’ll need to master the game’s movement options. You can dash, dodge, jump, double-jump, and glide to move around the arena. If a ball is thrown your way, you must either dodge or catch the ball to hold onto your precious health. The dodge also works offensively, as you can ram into an opponent with a ball to steal it for yourself. Dodging is risky since it leaves you open to getting hit, but it can pay off.

What drew me to Knockout City, beside its impending closure, was its focus on team play. Sure, you can rush off by yourself to try and gain knockouts, but that’s a fast way to get triple-teamed. Working with your teammates will allow you to even the odds. Passing the ball to teammates when they’re unarmed and distracting opponents from multiple angles are viable strategies, but one technique stands out. In the absence of balls, you can curl up into a ball and become a weapon in the hands of your allies. Throwing a teammate will instantly knock out an opponent, but beware, as they can catch these attacks and throw them right back. I am always looking for games to play with my friends online, and this was a fun experience. I recommend trying Knockout City if you have people to play it with. This is a game begging to be played with friends as opposed to by yourself. Just be quick about it; there’s only two months to go before it goes offline for good.


If you’re looking for a live service game with more of a focus on solo play, Ninjala is a good pick. The game has a more standard “battle royale” format that many live service games have. You will face off against online opponents in bouts to earn the most points. The way to win matches is with ninja gum, which powers up your weapons and movement options. The gameplay loop for matches is pretty simple: hit drones with your weapon to collect energy, use energy to power up your ninja gum, use ninja gum to power up your weapon. You will have other players in your way, so you’ll need to use your ninja tricks to dispatch them. Whoever knocks out the most opponents will get a point bonus at the end of the match.

Ninjala has some similarities to an arena fighter, but instead of depleting a single opponent’s health bar, players must outscore up to seven other ninja. Weapons have three attacks tied to different directional inputs, and each one wins or loses against the other two in a rock-paper-scissors style. You can use your ninja gum to block attacks, dash through the air, or as a projectile to bind opponents. If you burst an opponent’s gum bubble, they’ll be bound for a while, giving you a chance to knock them out for extra points. There are also different weapons such as the sword, hammer, and yo-yo, each with their own differences in power and range. It’s a lot to take in, but there are tutorials that will guide you through each mechanic. One notable thing about Ninjala is the way that it handles the cost of content. The multiplayer mode is free, but you can buy chapters of single player content for $10 per chapter. I would have preferred a flat cost for the game that includes all of the single player and multiplayer content. I understand why the multiplayer would be put at the forefront of a live service game, but the separation of the single player mode through a paywall makes it feel tacked-on, even if this might not be the case. This disconnect between Ninjala’s content is hard to ignore.

Summary: Both of these games are creative, have charming visual styles, and introduce clever and engaging mechanics. However, it is tricky to enjoy these games when the threat of shutdown could be looming around the corner. I only have two months to get the most out of Knockout City until it becomes a memory. Ninjala is safe at the moment, but you never know when this already disjointed game will get cut in half from a lack of servers. Many games can stay the same after launch and can be enjoyed many years after, but not these ones. They change, evolving with new content, game modes, and customization options until they eventually burn out. Live service games live fast and die young, with their players having no choice to stop playing once a game’s time is up. I am glad I got the chance to experience what these games have to offer, and I appreciate them whether they stick around for two more months or two more decades.

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