Handball 21 officially launched this week and, following our preview of the game, we are back with a full review of the Xbox One version. As mentioned in our preview, some time has passed since the last Handball game released back in 2016. So, it will interesting to see just how far Handball 21 has come since its predecessor and our preview.

Gameplay

Our preview mentioned Handball 21 requires a controller in order to play on PC. Playing with a keyboard and mouse is not supported. At this time, it appears this is still the case according to Steam. Now, onto the review.

Thanks to the preview and prior research, I had an idea of what to expect from the full game. This gave me a clear base comparison of what Handball 21 should be striving to simulate. Jumping from PC version to the Xbox, I can say Handball 21 still captures the competitiveness of the official Handball sport. Having the entire control scheme fitted to a controller means the fundamentals are easy to grasp. More advanced techniques also fit within the confines of the game. However, since the button combos are much easier, you’ll find a lot of the expertise and mastery on the court will come down to timing and knowing the sport.

I mentioned in our preview that contrary to past experiences in NACON titles, Handball felt easier to pick up. Even with the time between the preview and the official launch, I was able to brush up fairly quickly and hold my own. As I often express, no matter the niche, sports require practice which means the games should include some sort of practice mode. This allows new players to get acclimated and skip discouraging losses. It also benefits veterans who want to master the techniques. Both require putting in the time which should be an option to players. However, as expressed previously, players experienced in complex games should be comfortable with timing and combo presses after a few rounds.

The small things…

The control scheme feels well thought out, allowing players to make snap decisions like cancelling a jump shot and opting a for a pass instead. 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 or bumper. Holding down the button during shots allows you to slow things down and aim with precision. This window of time is brief, so it’ll take some time to get used to. One thing I noticed is entire shot can be cancelled out by a simple touch from defense. This makes sense to a degree, but I would argue some shots could still be completed. The more you play, the more you may find this slightly annoying.

The official launch version of Handball 21 sticks to the concept of controlling the entire defensive wall on defense. As before, you can quickly single out a defenders if needed. Goalies are primarily controlled with the right-stick. Note, however, depending on your settings, a lot of the nuances on defense can be automated or placed fully in your control. This includes allowing the defense wall to follow the ball automatically.

Presentation

As one would expect, Handball 21 appears graphically superior than its 2016 predecessor. Compared to other NACON titles, it is up to par. After spending more time with it, I still hold to animations could smoother. Compared to popular titles, the game lack considerable depth. I believe this could be made up for with smoother gameplay animations and better representation of movement especially when standing still and breaking into a jump shot.

Outside of that, Handball 21 feels modern with smooth navigation and a sleek user interface. There also some pre throw-off graphics and scenes. These are brief but skippable should you wish to dive right into the Throw-off. Audio in the game plays solidly with crowds coming alive at opportune moments. Having play-by-play would add a much needed layer of immersion.

Game Modes

Handball 21 offers the basics of simulation sports games. To start, you have Quick Match where you pick teams, then jump into a game. Additionally, Handball 21 offers an online play mode. This is essentially Quick Match but against players online.

In League, players take control of one of their favorite clubs and play through official league schedules. Altogether, the game features about 1,600 players and the majority if not all official clubs. At its core, this operates a bare-bones tournament style mode. There is not a whole to cover here as the mode has minor team management aspects and the ability to sim matches. The sim feature is a basic skip. Unfortunately, there was not a way to watch an AI versus AI match. when not in a match, you can view your standings, league rankings and scheduled matchups for the calendar year.

More of the same…

In Solo, players control 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. Players will need to train roster and manage the team’s effectiveness as you battle up the rankings.

My Squad is where you’ll be creating your club. There is not a whole lot to expect from here in terms of options. Like the preview, even the names are preset. The decent selection of jersey, shorts, and ball designs remains the same. Of course, you can set your color scheme. I went with purple, black, and grey this time and chose the “Ultimate Handball Club” (UHC) preset name again. As before, 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 play in Handball 21, win or loss, you earn SP. This in-game currency can then be used to unlock booster packs, specific enhancements, and other players for your squad.

The Verdict

Handball 21 presents as a solid official handball game. While the passion behind the design is evident, I must say it still has lots of room for overall improvement. The lack of depth in the game modes can wait an iteration or two in my opinion, that is so long as the gameplay improves with each entry. As it is stands, it is not bad but it can certainly be better.

I like the moment to moment action and a solid jump hip shot feels very gratifying, but due to the overall arcade feel I get from the game the lack of deep management simulation mechanics in Solo mode, I do not know how long Handball 21 will hold the attention of anyone not a hardcore player. Handball 21 is not a full priced and I believe that’s a smart move. It plays well enough to find a home with hardcore fans.


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Handball 21 Review
  • 7.5/10
    Gameplay - 7.5/10
  • 7/10
    Game Modes - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Presentation - 7.5/10
  • 6.6/10
    Longevity - 6.6/10
Overall
7.15/10