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Madballs in... BABO: Invasion (PC) artwork

Madballs in... BABO: Invasion (PC) review


"Overall, Madballs is an enjoyable game for a while, especially at the $10 price point. However, it is not greater than the sum of its individual parts. If you want to play either a great shooter or a great platformer, there are other games that do it better at the same price range (have a look at Geometry Wars and Marble Blast Ultra). That being said, if you really want to do both at the same time, you could certainly be worse off, as the cartoony approach and style is charming enough to entertain, if only for a short while."



Have you ever wanted to blow up the annoying black marble in stage 2 of Marble Madness? If you answered yes, Playbrains has made a game just for you. Madballs in BABO: Invasion, out last month for XBLA and PC, fulfills that desire and then some.

Gameplay in Madballs is an amalgamation between Super Monkey Ball and Smash T.V. Players roll their marble-like creature (only two of which are from the actual "Madballs" toy line) around levels, and shoot their guns at everything that moves. The game features two camera modes: a 3d camera that is the meat of the game (and the better mode in which to play), and a retro-styled 2d top-down camera that really calls to mind the arena feel of old arcade shooters.

The control is easily handled with an Xbox 360 controller – if you’re a PC gamer without one, then the “standard” FPS controls feel forced into working with the game, much the same way that the recent Prince of Persia games are. While play is certainly possible without a controller, the experience feels much more fluid if you leave the keyboard and mouse behind. The top-down view becomes especially awkward, as the mouse aiming feels more suited to an RTS game than a fast-paced shooter.

Single player mode opens with Boot Camp, a simple introduction to the game’s controls and weapons. After that, the real campaign opens with whichever faction you choose. The storyline runs parallel on each side, and features the same set of 10 levels – the only meaningful differences between factions are the characters and weapons you play with. The pacing of the first few levels is good, with a nice mix of rolling and shooting, with fun boss fights at the end of most levels.

The problem is that the level design becomes very repetitive, largely because there isn’t much depth to the levels – which I mean literally, given that there’s no option to jump. Marble Blast Ultra, also on XBLA, has well-designed levels that require a variety of skills and abilities to conquer. Madballs simply has you find floor switches in each stage, and then advance to the end where an arena-style fight occurs. At best, you’ll hit a floor tile that boosts you into the air, where you’ll land on a bridge running above a portion of the level. The lack of both jumping and the ability to pan the camera up and down places a strain on the types of levels that can be created, and it really begins to show around the fourth stage, where a painfully slow maze section breaks the pacing of the opening stages.

The other big issue is that the gunplay is very simple. Every gun can do every job -- you'll never find yourself in a situation desperate for a different weapon. I was able to cruise through the first few levels using nothing but the B.D.I. shotgun, and before picking that up, I had no problems using the default Stitcher. Similarly, while the different skills each character brings to the table are neat, they don't create varied enough gameplay to make a large difference in strategy. One notable exception occurs in the third stage, but having gameplay feel different across the cast should have been the norm, not the exception.

Freeplay mode, unlocked for each level upon its completion, seemed fairly standard, though I’m sure there are secrets in the earlier levels only available when new character’s powers open up more areas. That being said, it was a breath of fresh air to play through the first level and have all of the guns unlocked. Freeplay is also unlocked for both factions when you clear a level with either side, so you don’t have to play through the story twice if all you want to do is roll around and have a good time.

Online play was a blast for the few minutes I was able to experience it – a lack of games being hosted is currently the biggest problem with multiplayer. The game mode I did play was Base Attack, which felt something like speed-Onslaught from Unreal 2004. Each team has a central base power core, and supporting nodes around it. The central core is shielded until one team controls a sufficient number of nodes, which will make the enemy power core vulnerable. The maps I played were just the right size for teams of 3 or 4 players, which seems like the maximum number of marble-like creatures rolling around that anyone could follow. The other multiplayer modes are standard-fare with the exception of Invasion – a game mode where players choose where to place their power core and nodes before reverting to the Base Attack format to play.

Like the single-player campaign, one big issue really hurts the multiplayer portion of the game. All characters and weapons beyond the first for each faction are locked and unavailable until players earn enough points to unlock them. That’s fine for the pacing of campaign, but locking equipment for multiplayer doesn’t encourage teamwork – instead, most players just slog away trying to earn their next gun or character. It also forces a time commitment into the game that will turn off casual players. I realize that once you unlock everything this becomes a non-issue, but few players will persevere long enough to accomplish the task at hand.

Overall, Madballs is an enjoyable game for a while, especially at the $10 price point. However, it is not greater than the sum of its individual parts. If you want to play either a great shooter or a great platformer, there are other games that do it better at the same price range (have a look at Geometry Wars and Marble Blast Ultra). That being said, if you really want to do both at the same time, you could certainly be worse off, as the cartoony approach and style is charming enough to entertain, if only for a short while.

Rating: 7/10

BardicKnowledge's avatar
Freelance review by Ryan Thompson (October 20, 2009)

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Halon posted October 23, 2009:

Nice review, been curious about this title. Probably won't be getting this one since just good isn't enough to please me nowdays, but you have to give it to the developers for giving a damn. Someone on the Steam forums posted something about having a hard time connecting to the servers and the developers responded on the forums immediately and a day or two later updated the game, thus fixing the problem. These games might have smaller budgets and not be as flashy and exciting, but at least the developers care and give it their all.

Too bad the game isn't anything great, though.

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