Madballs in… Babo: Invasion (PC) Review
Game: Madballs in… Babo: Invasion
Developer: Play Brains
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Players: 1-4 in Co-Op or up to 16 in Online Deathmatch
Rating: E For Everyone
Some of our older readers may be aware of the Madballs toys, which were essentially little rubber balls with monster like designs on each one and were a bit of a passing fad back in the 80’s. Still they apparently sold well enough to warrant a revival in the 21st century and to accompany the little beastie balls reintroduction into society Play Brains have developed a nifty little shooter that is available on both the PC via Steam and XBLA.
The story goes that a little Madball called Oculus is flying through space on a ship inextricably controlled via rolling around, when he is knocked out of space by a mysterious force and crash lands on a nearby moon called Feralon. When there he is quickly, and quite randomly, recruited by the B*D*I to aid them in their battle against renegade Madballs of the Scorched Militia to fulfill some kind of destiny whereby he saves the planet. So its a little flimsy story wise but its enough to hold the campaign together at least, and is certainly more than some DLC games offer to the player.
The real meat and potatoes of Madballs comes in the gameplay. The best description to give the game is that it plays like Super Monkey Ball but with guns and without Monkeys. The general idea is that you roll your Madball around the level, negotiating various pitfalls and blasting your enemies until you get to the end of the stage. The physics incorporated into the ball are pretty much spot on and require the player to engage in a little twitch gameplay for some of the more hazardous areas, as an overly strong touch either way can be devastating for your little critter, especially in later levels when some of the power-up boxes contain explosives and need to be shot or avoided.
In the PC version of the game this level of control does provide a slight problem as it is quite difficult to control your character using keyboard keys, especially when rolling around a full 360 degree area. Analogue sticks are much better suited to this kind of game and, while Madballs is perfectly playable using a mouse and keyboard, some undue frustration can be cut out with the use of the pad. The sticks just make it a little easier to keep proper control of your Madball, which is especially useful when in a fire-fight.
And fire-fights are what Madballs really specializes in because at its heart it is a shooter through and through. The game provides plentiful cannon fodder for you to blast your way through, from slow moving balls that explode on impact, up to quick firing turrets and opposing Madballs. The game incorporates an elemental system for combat, with each gun switching between fire, ice, energy and impact. Of course each enemy in the game generally has a weakness to one of these elements and it is up to the player to choose the right element for the job due to the fact that rewards, such as extra combo multipliers, can be gained from using the correct element against the correct enemy. This lends the shooting a slightly more tactical level as using a gun of the wrong element on a swarm of enemies can quickly lead to your Madball becoming overrun and wiped out, as well as giving you less of a bonus for victory.
There are plentiful guns to choose from too, five for each faction, and each has its own firing modes, strengths and weaknesses. The Stitcher is good for quickfire attacks but is relatively weak, whereas the Shotty is good at close range and with a lot of foes present but is pretty useless against single foes that are firing back. One neat little feature is the recoil of each weapon as the more powerful ones will send your Madball rolling backwards a touch, which is something that needs to be compensated for by the player if they are going to use something like the Shotty or Zooka.
Character choice also plays a part as each Madball has individual characteristics in terms of health and speed, as well as their own special moves. Each of these needs to be taken into consideration when choosing a character, when the other characters are unlocked of course. Your Madball doesn’t have a massive effect on gameplay however, and it is entirely possible to blast through the game using just one of the characters, especially with the generous check-pointing system.
The only problem when it comes to the tactical end of the fighting is the movement. Well not so much the way the ball moves but more where it moves into. Some of the areas in the game are a little overshadowed and it can sometimes be difficult to really figure out where you’re moving your Madball too. Solid black is used for some of the shadowing and you’re never quite sure if you can roll through it or if its a pitfall, which makes maneuvering during combat a little more tricky.
This is a problem that pervades throughout when it comes to graphics. While the actual graphics themselves are quite good, especially for a game on this level, the play areas can become a little cluttered. This is especially noticeable in areas where there are overhanging bridges and the like and this, combined with the general darkness, sometimes makes navigating the various levels a little tricky. Play Brains have helped you out with directional arrows which point in the way you’re meant to go, but slightly more well lit arenas, especially on some of the earlier levels, would have been welcome.
Sound-wise the game is pretty solid but not spectacular in any way. The music is suitably atmospheric and has a similar sort of “epic” feel as Halo, though obviously not up to the same standard. The effect is still there though and generally music is decent throughout. All the weapons sound pretty OK, though the element changeover noise for each one is a little clunky sounding, and your enemies make satisfying squelching or exploding noises when they die. The only real annoyance is the voice clips, which quickly become rather irritating and repetitive. Oculus sounds a little like Borat when he unleashes his “I spy with my little eye” pun and Major Stone’s various little sound bytes all get pretty old, but its not something that’s game breaking.
For a downloadable game though, Madballs offers plenty of content. Each stage has a number of secrets to uncover for the more exploratory amongst you, though they generally don’t seem to amount to much outside of little snippets of story. The player also unlocks various weapons and characters as they progress through the campaign and all of this lends the game a depth that is absent from many DLC games. Add in a good set of achievements and there is quite a lot in Madballs for the more serious gamer to chow down on.
The final important aspect of the game is the online multiplayer. Deathmatch in Madballs is a frenetic affair, with tactics often flying out the window as you struggle to roll around your opponents and get your shots off while avoiding theirs. This is amplified when you get up to 16 players in an arena at one time and the meeting of multiple Madballs normally ends in squelchy carnage.
There are other modes to take up your time though, with such online staples as “Capture the Flag” and various team based games giving the multiplayer a good bit of bite to go along with its bark. Its fast and fun, though tactically a little lacking, especially on the keyboard control scheme where you never quite feel like you have full control of your Madball during a fight. The game even lets you create your own maps in the Invasion mode, which is an interesting little gimmick that works quite well and lends the multiplayer aspect of the game a little more longevity and depth that is absent in most downloadable titles.
The Final Word
All in all then Madballs in… Babo: Invasion is a very solid DLC title. While not offering anything especially ground breaking, all the game’s major elements are solidly executed and nothing feels broken or rushed. The graphics could use a little general brightening and controls are a little iffy on the keyboard and mouse scheme but get past these minor problems and you’ll find yourself a fun little game that’s easy to pick up and play and perfect for blasting away a small chunk of time with some frenetic and mindless action. There’s even a decent amount a content for those willing to lend a little more time, and it also seems some DLC for the game is going to be put on offer eventually. Well worth at least a demo and very good value for money too.