"Madballs in... BABO: Invasion isn't the deepest game, but it shouldn't be. Games like this are great because of their simplicity, not in spite of it. Gameplay revolves (get it?) around your chosen circular hero rolling from place to place and causing as much havoc as possible."
You probably had the same reaction I did when you heard this game talked about or saw reviews on these beloved intertubes: “What did Babo do to anger NYHC band Madball and what are they invading with? I hope they demonstrate their style.”
I then realized that no, this isn't about a hardcore band. It's about those strange toys from our collective childhood. For those of you who don't remember the late 80s, color yourself lucky. Essentially, nothing was produced unless it could be turned into a childhood toy juggernaut. If you couldn't make a morning cartoon, sell action figures, put it on a placemat or, more importantly, use it to part parents from their money, it just wasn't going to get made.
That's what makes this release so puzzling. Something branded with Madballs in 2009? I remember the items in question--disgusting looking rubber balls that may have existed solely to cash in on the gross-out trend that the Garbage Pail kids had generated. I also remember them having a failed television show and disappearing for many, many years. It must have been a very cheap license to acquire at this point and, interestingly enough, has led to a very entertaining game. One would assume that this is the great Madballs rebirth. They return forged from the fires of the earth's core to rise and take the throne of the toy gods.
Or they are just a pretty fun third person arena shooter. Either way...
Madballs in... BABO: Invasion isn't the deepest game, but it shouldn't be. Games like this are great because of their simplicity, not in spite of it. Gameplay revolves (get it?) around your chosen circular hero rolling from place to place and causing as much havoc as possible. There are plenty of weapons and special abilities to unlock by playing through the game and defeating enemies. All of the weapons are varied and fun to use, plus they fall into certain categories that are more effective against certain bad guys that you end up facing. The same is true of each character's special attacks, which adds to the strategic element. Being able to switch characters at different intervals and pick up guns as you go gives Madballs more replay value than most Xbox Live Arcade titles.
The single-player mode works fine, with a storyline that I can barely even remember a short time after playing through it. The plot is really just a means for you to blast tons of round bad guys in colorful environments with fun powers. It's fairly challenging also, but unbalanced. The game wobbles from simple to ridiculous and back again pretty often. This feels more natural after a few playthroughs, when you have all of the weapons unlocked and can get good bonuses by exploiting enemy weaknesses. You are also penalized heavily for losing all of your lives. Each time, you'll find yourself unceremoniously plopped at the very beginning of the level in question. That can be quite frustrating considering the difficulty and the distance between many of the checkpoints.
The real entertainment comes from the surprisingly well done multi-player modes. The basics are all here: deathmatch, team deathmatch and a capture the flag mode that translates terrifically into the chaotic arena gameplay of Madballs. In addition, the deathmatch mode--quite creepily--lops your avatar's head off and uses that as your character. For every kill you get, you grow bigger and slower but also much tougher. Long kill streaks turn you into an enormous juggernaut and help add even more strategy to this budget title. One second you are battling two or three other people and the next you are putting your differences aside to blow up somebody's two-story-high face.
There is also a game type called Invasion which has a loose relationship with Unreal Tournament 2004's Onslaught mode, but with an added map-building element. In Invasion, you construct a base before each map and must defend it while attempting to control a certain number of power nodes on the map. Eventually it will come down to the same rolling and shooting that the other modes do, but the added layer of strategy goes even further to help the replay value and justify the $10 this game will cost you.
One of the biggest omissions that harm this title is the lack of single-console multi-player. A game like this just seems like a no-brainer to feature at least a cursory co-op mode. Not being able to hop on and play with a friend is a bit frustrating. The controls can also feel a little bit wonky at times, since the aiming reticule never really feels like it is under your control and instead just offers a vague reference to where your bullets may be going.
While the game is very aesthetically pleasing, with colorful graphics, great level designs and very nice explosion and lighting effects, it occasionally is mired by some technical hiccups. While I didn't personally experience any problems with lag or the graphics locking up, it has been mentioned by many others that this is a problem on some systems with no real explanation as to why.
In the end, Madballs in... BABO: Invasion is a pretty easy recommendation if you are a fan of quirky and quick-paced shooters. While the controls aren't perfect, the single-player isn't anything special and the difficulty can be unbalanced, the multi-player is an absolute blast that's more than worth the 800 points you'll have to pay to play it. The issue is whether or not this game can garner a decent community to populate those multi-player games, since the lack of any single console co-op mode means that if the online scene dries up, you're stuck playing with your balls by yourself.
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (July 28, 2009)
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