If you did not know, handball is an official sport. Like most official sports, it has its own video game counterpart. Now, some time has passed since the last Handball game released back in 2016. However, NACON (formerly BigBen) announced the release of Handball 21 for this November. We have been fortunate enough to spend some time with the PC version of the game and, of course, give you all a preview of what’s to come.

Learning the fundamentals

At the time of this writing, Handball 21 requires a controller in order to play. Playing with a keyboard and mouse is not supported. I do not know if this is likely to change by launch, so beware. However, the game does play comfortably with a controller. If you have an Xbox controller lying around, I recommend using it.

Before diving into the video game, a watched a few official games and their highlights. This gave me a clear base comparison of what Handball 21 is or should be striving to recreate. The thing I liked most about the sport was the passion in those watching and those playing. Handball 21 definitely captures competitiveness and technique within the confines of the game. Contrary to past experiences in NACON titles, Handball felt easier to pick up. After two eight minute amateur level games, I was holding my own and scoring.

I still do not agree with the lack of dedicated practice/tutorial modes, but if you are experienced in sports games, you’ll likely be comfortable with timing and combo presses after a few rounds. If you are experienced in NACON simulation games, then it will be another round practicing primarily through trial by fire. While this is a preview and the final game could have a mode for learning added, other titles in the NACON library hint that this is not likely to change.

The control scheme appears well thought out, allowing players to make snap decisions like cancelling a shot and opting a for a pass instead. It uses a combination of the face buttons in conjunction with trigger pulls. There are several types of passes, shots, and methods of defense. Most advanced forms of each requires holding down a modifier button like the left trigger. Holding down the button during shots allows you to slow things down and get a good aim. This window of opportunity is brief, so keep trying and you’ll get the hang of it. Players feature a small assortment of stats. Off the bat, I was not able to tell if these stats affected how long or how effective slowing time was between various athletes. Regardless of whom I was using to make the shot, the players felt relatively the same.

Defense is interesting. The concept of controlling an entire line of players instead of an individual felt different but fluid. Handball 21 still offers to the ability to single out a defenders if needed. This method of play took some practice, mostly trial by fire, but given how handball is played, it makes perfect sense. Once your team scurries to build the defensive wall, you move the left stick to control them as a unit. Here you can attempt to block or even provoke a charge.

Overall, the game is simplistic in nature which lends itself to more of an arcade vide than simulation. This is certainly not a mark against the game, especially since it tends to be a fun experience overall. I feel there is more to be done in regards to recreating the emotion of the sport. Animations could use minor tweaks as a few passing animations appear to little to no leg movement. Outside of that, Handball 21 feels modern with smooth navigation and a sleek user interface. There also some pre throw-off graphics and scenes. They are brief but if you’re anxious to get into the game, these can be skipped.

Getting into the action

Handball 21 offers the basics of simulation sports games. To start, you have Quick Match where you pick teams, adjust a few rules and settings then play. You have an online play mode which is essentially Quick Match but against players online, or so I assume. I was not able to give this a thorough test at the time.

In League, players can take control of one of their favorite clubs and play through an official league schedule. Altogether, the game features about 1,600 players including stars like Valero Rivera. From the few matches I played of this mode, I would describe this as a bare-bones tournament styled mode. There is not a whole to cover here as the mode has minor team management aspects and the ability to sim matches. Of course, you can view your standings, league rankings and scheduled matchups for the calendar year.

In Solo, players take control of their created squad and manage them through their league of choice. Once you conquer a league, you are able to switch to a more difficult league if you wish. Each new league you join means you’ll be climbing the rankings once again starting from the bottom. Solo also has budgets and staffing aspects to it. You’ll be able to train players and manage the team’s effectiveness as you battle the rankings. This could easily be a career mode or franchise mode. Either way, its where the majority of the simulation aspect of Handball 21 seems to takes place.

My Squad is where you’ll be creating your club. There is not a whole lot to expect from here in terms of options. Even the names are preset. Although, the game has not launched yet, so this could be subject to change. That said, you will have a pretty decent selection of jersey, shorts, and ball designs. Of course, you’ll be able to set your color scheme. I went with a nice purple, black, and white palette and chose the “Ultimate Handball Club” (UHC) preset name. Assigning players to your new club is done through a set of cards. From the beginning, you won’t have much. However, no matter what mode you plan in Handball 21, win or loss, you earn SP. This in-game currency can then be used to unlock booster packs or specific enhancements.

You may be able to give yourself an edge going into Solo if you spend some time in the other modes leveling up your profile which subsequently earns SP. It’s a good way to practice as well.

Handball 21 has a simple yet complex nature to its overall build. As a whole, the game plays well and I did not stumble any major pieces of the game I felt did not fit or add to the overall experience. A simple mode that simulates players taking shots would be perfect to allow fans to practice techniques and get used to the timing of jump shots or slowing if time.

Stay tuned for our full review of Handball 21 coming closer to it’s release date.


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