Talk about a property out of left field. Madballs isn't exactly a toy line that comes to mind when people ask about your favorite childhood toys or action figures. I remember Madballs well enough once they're brought up in conversation; they were kind of riding on the wave of gross-out humor that was popularized with stuff like Garbage Pail Kids, but I don't remember the phenomenon being particularly long-lived.
Why are we getting an XBLA title based on the franchise now? I'm not entirely sure I can answer that, but it's a pretty interesting attempt at doing something slightly new with a service that's already littered with multiplayer shooters. While Madballs in Babo: Invasion is little more than an excuse to get 16 players together in a room to shoot it out for online leaderboard supremacy, it's put together quite well and manages to be entertaining. I'm not saying that it will compete with Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4, but it's a pretty solid distraction for shooter fans looking for a more unique experience from their online play. At the same time, it's not a great game either, with some funky design decisions that don't mesh together very well, and some missteps along the way keep the game from being great.
First of all, why Madballs? After a few hours, you get the feeling that the developers just wanted to use circular enemies and heroes to populate the game world, and I'd imagine there aren't a lot of properties that required the main characters to resemble balls, so the Madballs brand is a pretty good fit, even if it is pretty obscure. The license speaks to a certain group of gamer when it comes to the nostalgia factor. The Madballs add little to the game aside from the visuals; some voices are mixed in, but nothing that I recall from my youth. Aside from fans chiming in with, "Hey, I remember that one," the appeal of the Madballs is pretty limited in scope.
When it comes to the gameplay, though, Babo: Invasion manages to control well and is surprisingly fun to play for a pretty simple concept. For the single-player campaign, which acts as a tutorial and way to unlock all the weapons and Madballs that you can use in both the single-player and multiplayer portions, you control a selected character across a series of levels, blasting away at enemy units, turrets, and unlocking gates and doors to advance across the stage. Occasionally, you'll run into environmental hazards, but the platforming aspect is pretty subdued. Don't expect a level complexity like Monkey Ball or even the classic Marble Madness. The puzzle-solving is light at best, and there's no jump ability aside from the ramps that you'll encounter. You come equipped with a charged-up roll ability, which allows you to get over some of the bigger obstacles if a ramp is provided, but aside from quickly running away, there's not a lot of use for it in the game.
Most of the variety in Madballs comes from the weapons instead of the characters. The weapons all have secondary abilities, and there are a fair number of them available. They also come equipped with certain strengths, much like the characters you can select, and using the correct weapon against your opponents will result in quicker kills. Certain characters will have elemental strengths as well, which will halve damage, so you'll also need to switch out weapons and make use of all their abilities if you hope to become decent at the multiplayer aspect. The single-player side of things is a good tool to become acquainted with weapons' strengths, but you'll really start to learn what works best once you jump into a multiplayer match or two.
In addition to the single-player component, you have a variety of multiplayer matches available. The game comes equipped with most of the standards: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and so on. There's also an Avatar mode that allows you to use the Xbox 360 avatar heads as characters, which is somewhat disconcerting to see in action because they look out of place with the art design and a tad goofy. It's a neat idea, and I appreciate games trying to implement the avatars in some way, but they don't really fit in very well with this title. There are plenty of online leaderboards to compete in, and there are still a fair number of people playing online, even if those select few are obviously pretty skilled in the game at this point. I had no trouble finding a match to jump into and had no connection issues to speak of, which was nice.
Altogether, Madballs in Babo: Invasion is a pretty decent shooter for XBLA, but it's something that I could only see myself playing as a temporary distraction from the heavy hitters available on the system. The idea of using the Madballs license is a throwaway concept because it adds nothing to the title aside from some visual flair, and it might have been more interesting to see the developers come up with their own designs instead of basing it on a toy line that hasn't seen the light of day in such a long time. I had some fun with it, and I think that the demo is worth checking out to see if you'd enjoy playing it for an extended amount of time. It's certainly not the worst XBLA has to offer, but it's also a far cry from the best.Score: 6.5/10
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