When I first saw the name of Playbrain’s latest XBLA effort I had to stop and take a second. Were they referring to the nasty rubber balls we played with back in the 80s? Madballs was a gross-out boys’ toy that depicted some truly disgusting characters that we use to love to torture girls with. Now apparently it is a multi-player-centric game featuring a plethora of weapons and Marble Madness-esque gameplay. From the minute I started playing I was having fun, but the plodding pace and extremely long levels will tend to tread on you after a while. Thankfully the multi-player is where this game shines, and if you can deal with a few instances of lag from time to time, this is one heck of a deal for a downloadable game.
The controls are fairly straightforward. You move with the left analog stick and aim with the right. Your character inherits the same type of physics as the aforementioned Marble Madness, meaning you can get some momentum to your movement. This actually plays into the strategy and puzzles in some of the single-player levels, as well as working as special moves in multi-player. Picking up weapons is as simple as rolling over them and tapping a button. You can only carry one weapon at a time, so knowing which one to use on which enemy becomes key. This little tidbit of strategy would come in useful, but the game always tends to deliver exactly what you need, when you need it.
The shooting mechanics felt right from the get-go. The cursor onscreen shows the range your weapon has, and you can even pick up grenades and molotovs to toss at enemies, which are accompanied by a spectacular explosion. Each weapon also has an alternate fire mode, which continues to add depth to the gameplay. The array of weapons and attacks really helps when it comes to the multi-player portion of the game, but in single-player you can’t help but feel like it was just used to force you to try out different weapons. Depending on which character you are at the time (or choose in multi) you also have access to two special abilities. These can range from simple jumping or speed abilities to more complex defensive maneuvers. Once again this depth truly fleshes out the multi-player portion of the game more than the campaign.
I spent the majority of my time practicing for online by trudging through the story mode. The idea is that you are in Madball boot camp, complete with an annoying drill sergeant yelling in your ear at each checkpoint. The pace is hampered mostly by levels that tend to drag on far too long and a constant interruption from discovering new paths, checkpoints and such. There is simply too much to see and do sometimes, and the speed challenges will have you wanting to come back for more, but hesitant to play through the entire level again. Speaking of these challenges, some of them can be extremely exigent at times, requiring pinpoint accuracy and memorization. The problem arises when you run out of lives and have to start the entire level all over again. This adds to the tedium, and makes the core game feel even more tacked on than it already does.
Thankfully where Babo Invasion shines the most is online. The game combines most of what makes shooters enjoyable, and adds humorous twists and new dynamics. The online mode feels more akin to an Unreal as opposed to a Halo. Lots of fast-paced action combined with incredibly quick respawning make this a twitch gamers’ dream come true. All of the strategy you learn in single-player comes in handy in the online arena. Knowing which firing mode works best against certain opponents can be the key to victory, and your special moves are able to turn the tide of war in a flash.
All of your standard modes are here including deathmatch and team deathmatch, but my personal favorite was capture the flag. The action just lends itself well to the classic game type. There is also a unique mode called Invasion where you have to place tiles and construct bases to achieve victory, but most of the time it all boils down to who can kill who faster, which is what the game was designed for.
The game looks fantastic by all accounts. The overhead camera lends itself well to the explosive action, and rarely is there a time when frame rates dip below an acceptable rate. There are bouts of lag online, and I did find the purely top-down camera much more friendly than the isometric one, but explosions look fantastic and there are a wide variety of enemies to keep things fresh. The music is your standard rock affair mixed with some truly annoying voices and catch phrases. Hearing your character mutter the same tired phrases over and over quickly wears out its welcome.
Madballs in Babo: Invasion is chock full of fast-paced action that is certain to delight twitch gamers alike. If you enjoy online shooters and have a thirst for something a little different and inexpensive, this could easily satisfy your appetite. The game comes packed with a ton of content for both online and off, not to mention it plays buttery-smooth and still manages to look great for a downloadable title. Madballs may not re-invent the wheel, but it sure makes it fun to take it out for a spin. Plus where else can you use your Xbox 360 Avatar head and roll it around with giant machine guns? Oh yeah; nowhere.