2007 was an earnest, blissfully ignorant year. As the US economy was gearing up for an epic real-estate crash J.K. Rowling was wrapping up Harry Potter, the first iPhone was announced, and the internet collectively turned its attention towards one thing: demonstrating inarguably, with so many blurry off-screen videos and well-worn plastic guitars, that they could indeed finish Guitar Hero 3’s (2007) unofficial anthem, DragonForce’s “Through the Fire and Flames,” on expert.
One could argue that Guitar Hero 3 was the last true hurrah for the series before it choked to death on so many ill-fated sequels and spin-offs, but more than just a great game its most challenging song elevated it to pop culture infamy. “Through the Fire and Flames” was the sort of thing you called your friend over to witness, strum bar clicking and gasping for breath as your fingers worked overtime on shoddily manufactured color buttons. This was the truest example of what Guitar Hero was as a game and for so many people. It brought rooms together and became a defacto party game alongside Wii Sports (2006) as something your whole family and friend group could enjoy.
This is all a roundabout way to segue into talking about Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure (2016), a dodgeball party game by way of Denmark studio Game Swing that is neither a 2007 vintage or music game, but nevertheless conjured comparisons to Guitar Hero 3 as my girlfriend and I pummeled the devil with projectiles. Why we had ended up in hell facing off against the devil to win back the girl of our dreams isn’t important. What matters is that the devil is a bloody pain in the ass and far better at dodgeball than he has a right to be.
Perhaps it was the lava or the horns or the chugging guitars, but for the entirety of this sports battle all I could think of was “Through the Fire and Flames” and how agonizing it was as well. This is Stikbold incarnate, a ridiculous pseudo-sports game at one moment, and a death metal migraine the next. When it is not causing you to chuck controllers at the screen in frustration, Stikbold is a riotous multiplayer game that channels the best elements of so many unfortunate sports comedies, from Happy Gilmore (1996) to, appropriately, Dodgeball (2004).
Another pre-recession artifact, the sports comedy has been resurrected by indie developers in recent years with the likes of Sportsfriends (2013) and Videoball (2016), and Stikbold fits marvelously beside them as an asses-to-elbows couch co-op gem. A few unfortunate run-ins with Satan give way to extreme difficulty spikes, but there really is nothing quite like throwing a beehive at your best friend only to have them retaliate with a barrage of bunless hotdogs. Stikbold is the buddy-cop dodgeball epic I didn’t know I needed, and best of all Vince Vaughn is nowhere in sight.