Review: Madballs in… Babo: Invasion

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When I first started playing Madballs in… Babo: Invasion, I was reminded of several games and genres… all of which I like! It reminded me of Marble Blast, vertical shooters and arcade romps all at once. It is a load of fun and a great casual budget game that also features co-op and multiplayer modes to keep things interesting.

Madballs were a series of toys introduced in the mid-80’s which were popular for a time and which apparently spawned a very short-lived cartoon series (2 episodes according to Wikipedia). I was too old to have any interest in these, but I do remember ‘Screamin’ Meemie’ in particular. Anyway, in 2007 the series got a revival, and there have been a few new series introduced in addition to the originals.

So it is the natural course of things that we should see a video game. Fortunately it is not a typical ‘licensed tie-in shovelware’ game, but is instead a fun diversion that takes the ball nature of the Madballs in an entirely different direction, giving them weapons and having them deal with an invading force across a number of environments.

The basic story is that a Madball named Oculus is flying through space and crashes on to a moon named Feralon. There he is recruited to help save the planet from renegade Madballs, which involves you rolling around blasting everything that moves.

Technically, the game looks and controls great, but the sounds are nothing special. The balls and weapons and environments are nicely detailed and manage to show height details sufficiently in the platforming areas to give you ‘where do I go now’ clues. This game isn’t meant to be a ‘graphics card test’, but rather a display of effective visuals that give you enough cues to help you figure out where to go and how to find hidden stuff, and enough variety in areas to keep you engaged.

As for the sounds, you have a solid soundtrack that keeps the energy pumping and provides some nice atmosphere. Your Madball also makes little comments from time to time, such as “I spy with my little eye” when you find items. These clips are amusing early on, but get somewhat tiresome after a while – though they never become outright annoying.

The game works well with either keyboard & mouse or gamepad controls. I played almost exclusively with the keyboard & mouse, but since this was originally released on Xbox Live Arcade over the summer I assumed that my wireless controller would work perfectly – and it did. Having played Marble Blast for many years I had no issues with keyboard controls, but the game definitely felt like it was more fluid with the controller. In my opinion it comes down to user comfort and preference – just choose the controller you generally prefer and you’ll be good to go throughout the game.

While the story doesn’t sound like much, it is the gameplay that will hook you into playing for hours. You roll your Madball around the 3D environment, climbing hills, dropping into secret areas, crossing bridges, pressing switches, and so on. There are some mild platforming elements throughout, and plenty of opportunities to fall off cliffs to your death or get too close to things that explode and other pitfalls along the way. The physics engine is also impressive and keeps you paying attention to your actions.

As you progress you unlock new weapons and Madballs, each with new capabilities. This adds to the compulsion factor and keeps you going to just unlock more stuff! There are some weapons that add little to the mix, but for the most part you get a real feeling of becoming more powerful and more able to tackle a wide variety of tasks as you progress. You will also see items early on that you can later come back and grab with a new Madball character, further compelling you to come back for more.

Once you have played through the solo campaign and unlocked tons of stuff, you can join up with others online in either co-op mode or a number of multiplayer competitive modes. The good news is that you can take things earned in single player with you into multiplayer, making it even more important to gather up everything you can. Multiplayer modes include Skirmish, Team Skirmish, Capture The Flag, Invasion, and Base Attack (which is new for the PC game), and support the ability to get into games with up to 16 players. And beyond using the included maps, teams are actually able to design their own sides of the battlefield using preset tiles, which makes every new challenge unique.

There are definitely some easy criticisms I’ve pointed out, but then you come back to the price: this is a $10 downloadable game. Moreover, it is a $10 game with loads of built-in replayability, co-op and competitive multiplayer modes supporting up to 16 players, and even user-customization of areas, making it a game you can revisit over and over again. Not only that, the developers have updated it constantly since release. Madballs in… Babo: Invasion is a great gaming value that is easy to recommend for just about anyone. And since Steam has a demo, it is simple for anyone to play first before committing $10 for the full version.

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Pros:
+ Loads of fun to roll around and shoot stuff
+ Co-op and competitive multiplayer modes work well
+ Nice variety in environments

Cons:
– Sounds are uninspired
– PC community is small

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available for Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Playbrains
Developer: Playbrains
Release Date: 9/17/09
Genre: Arena Shooter
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-16
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!