Madballs Babo: Invasion is a licensing deal gone wrong. Does anyone actually have fond memories of the crazy eye based toys? I remember only having one, who is actually the featured character in this game, and it was the most neglected in my toy box. Don’t get my intentions wrong, this game provides hours of solo play as well as some classic high angle shooting nostalgia. It’s just that the Madballs license adds nothing to this arcade shooter. The story feels shoe horned and provides very little motivation for completing the campaign. What it does right is solid shoot mechanics as well some varied multiplayer modes.
Playing Madballs feels like being forced into a time portal and getting my butt handed to me by unforgiving boss battles as well as an outdated live system. On my first play through I was enjoying the fast pace combat and was pretty forgiving of the cheap deaths from falling off skinny pathways or getting swarmed by half a dozen enemies. What broke the rhythm and destroyed my fun was on the third level I became very aware of the never referenced live system. Only by hitting the pause button in the game are you ever treated to the knowledge that after three deaths you will be forced to repeat the level you are on. Further, check points served as a motivation to correct past mistakes, take down hard enemies and continue to dive headlong into massive boss battles. What is a total misstep in game design is not giving the players the ability to earn additional lives by meeting some type of score requirement. If I play through an entire level without dying, why can’t I be rewarded in some way? What seems like a fresh competitor in a fairly under appreciated genre is driven back to the stone ages of quarter sucking arcade machines, something most developers have abandoned.
The campaign is a collection of ten levels set across several varied terrains and split into two factions. Each level has several check points between puzzles or battles that allow you to switch up characters or change out weapons. In the beginning, you only have access to the standard automatic rifle and its energy bullet alternative fire under one faction and a sharp disk launching gun under another. As you play through the levels you unlock different weapons including the shotgun, an energy beam gun, dual automatic rifles as well as a rocket launchers and a mortar launcher.
Weapons and unlockable characters will carry over to every mode in the game. There are five different characters to unlock for each faction and can be swapped at a checkpoints. Each playable character has different stats and on special ability: one is very quick with low health, another is slow but can take three times the damage, and the starting character seems to be even on all stats.
The story mode can be cumbersome at times due to the narrow pathways or bridge problem. The characters seem to have a slight floating issue, not quite touching the ground so slipping off the edges is frequent and annoying. Simple puzzles serve more as a distraction than a thought provoking challenge. They only seem to get worse when having to repeat them for the tenth time while working your way back up to the boss character who wiped the floor with you last time.
At the end of each level, the player is treated to an arcade shooter staple boss battle. One oversized character with massive health bar? Check. A half dozen similar, but smaller and constantly respawning minions? Check. Frustrating boss mechanics that make killing these small characters impossible? Big Check. What I loved about arcade shooters back in the day was watching bosses from afar and memorizing their attack patterns. Swooping in during repeated sequences and taking a small section of health off only to fall back and wait for another chance at bringing him down. This is nearly impossible when you have the boss using his powers to remove the gun from your back, and the smaller enemies chasing after you with no way to defend yourself.
Multiplayer is where all the elements from Madballs roll into place to show off the real roots as a Babo game. After only seven weeks out on the market, the matchmaking may have hit its peak. Without local multiplayer options you’re completely dependant on other Xbox live players. That means unless the game grows in popularity, you’ll be stuck playing with the same ten people that I was.
The single player unlockable weapons are carried over into multiplayer matches, so unless you unlocked the game’s more powerful cannons, expect to experience some balancing issues. In versus, sixteen players compete in object based modes including death match and team based node capture. Both will keep you entertained for a few rounds but what will excite anyone who’s been staring at their pointless avatar since the launch of the new Xbox live experience is the ability to bring them online – a very novel idea which adds a little bit of flair to a standard match.
Co-op allows you and three friends to team up in any of the ten levels found in the campaign. What felt like a bland series of hallways linking combat arenas and puzzles turns into a fast pace competition to see who can rank up the most points before finishing the boss. Finding a co-op game though can be more difficult than playing through the story mode by alone, however. In a week, I was only able to find a handful of matches and it was with the same group of people. It is times like these that same-sofa multiplayer options are missed.
Presentation falters if you look at Madballs as a single player arcade shooter. Level design and art are dull at best. Characters repeat the same painfully delivered lines a repeatedly, lacking to provide any real personality other than rolling balls. Also, a game released on Xbox Live Arcade and stored on your hard drive should not take this long to load. Frame rate dips and lag can find their way into just about every multiplayer matche.
Madballs Babo: Invasion may not be the prettiest game out on the market right now but what it does do is bring the classic Babo fun to Xbox live. If you and three of your Live friends are looking for a game to pickup that allows you to blow a lot of stuff up with fun weapons you can’t go wrong with this purchase. For only 800 Microsoft points, it is still a worthy purchase.