INTRODUCTIONKing Oddball is a physics-based puzzler and mobile port from 10Tons Ltd., a developer most notable for their 2003 (and 2014 updated) twin-stick shooter Crimsonland. However, instead of the latter's gun-crazy killing machine, in King Oddball you play as a royal and sentient hovering ball of rock that flings other rocks with his elongated prehensile tongue.
Still with me? If so, then you're likely to find this tower-toppling time-killer just as addictive as it's more famous avian forbearer, Angry Birds. What's more, it sits firmly in a family-friendly territory, so you don't have to wait until the kids go to bed to fire up the console and take out some decidedly cute paramilitary soldiers with well-aimed boulders. While there's no story to speak of, the gameplay effectively gives you that "just one more go" urge.
gAMEPLAYIf you've never played Angry Birds or its slew of clones, the concept is simple: you are on one side of the screen and have a method (such as a slingshot) to fire different types of projectiles into precarious stacks of blocks. This makes said blocks topple in spectacular ways, ultimately decimating the immobile enemies cowering around them.
In the case of King Oddball, your method of firing projectiles is the stationary floating King himself, who appears at the beginning of each stage at a predetermined point in the sky. The stone-faced king then uses, unaided by the gamer, his long, pink tongue to grab a stone from the limited supply in the upper right of the screen. Then the tongue swings in a pendulum-like fashion, and it's up to you to press a button to release the stone from the king's sticky tongue at the prime time needed to destroy all the onscreen enemies. Releasing the stone midway through its arc gives it the most force, whereas releasing the stone at a peak of the tongue's swing will drop it straight down. Each level takes place on a single screen, and there is no scrolling to follow flying stones or blocks. Once it's off screen, objects are no longer visible, so don't expect rebound shots off of invisible walls.
By removing the option to directly control the force with which you fling your projectile (you can't, for instance, pull a slingshot back farther to fire farther), King Oddball actually adds a new depth of strategy. At first, you'll be whipping rocks as fast as possible by letting them go midway through each swing, trying to obliterate the destructible items onscreen with sheer force. However, given a few levels, you'll learn that dropping them gently onto a structure will sometimes cause more damage, as the object drops through multiple layers of enemies. Also, there are special rules that you figure out through simple experimentation, such as how destroying three enemies with one stone gains you a bonus stone, as does bouncing a stone back up to the King.
There are a huge number of levels to chuck rocks through, and the few enemies present each have unique qualities that change up the physics of your attacks--helicopters levitate in air, and spiral down at angles before exploding; soldiers provide virtually no resistance to your attacks, whereas other enemies cause the stone to bounce when struck; tanks roll when hit but aren't not destroyed. Level selection is a bit different for this type of game, also, as there is actually a world map set up as grid'ed squares. You select which section of the square you'd like to tackle next, and once the whole square is clear, you progress to a new one with new levels. There are also special items in each square, some of which reveal more levels (such as the set of 20 "Boom" levels where you throw grenades instead of rocks), and some of which allow you to do different things like see your gameplay statistics, or replay levels to attain a "Diamond" rating in each.
The "Diamond" rating, unlike the one, two, or three-star scores Angry Birds uses, has only one level and seems easier to attain than the three-star rating in Birds. This leads me to my primary criticism of King Oddball, which is that it's just a little too easy for this type of puzzler. The draw to a casual game like this has long been that all ages can enjoy it--kids can cause destruction, win or lose, and adults can strive to get the highest rating--but a low difficulty means a lower draw for older audiences. This is a little "odd," if I may say so, because the art design seems aimed a little at older audiences, more due to bizarreness than inappropriateness (think if Tim Burton designed a 2D Katamari game.) There is a bucket of achievements, many of which are zany and entertaining to read when they pop up (one has to deal with mustaches,) but it still would've been a small effort to up the difficulty of high-scoring levels when replaying them.
That leads to another small criticism of King Oddball, which isn't necessarily a con if you're looking for a casual game, and that is the length of play sessions the game encourages. As a game that originated on a mobile platform, (and is now on everything from iOS to Android to the Playstation Vita), it was designed to be playable in short, pick-up-and-put-down bursts. While I was able to play an hour at a time and enjoy it, that drive faded after the first and second bouts. The repetitive nature of a casual mobile game just isn't conducive to long-term game fests; it is, however, the perfect thing to boot up when you're spending a few minutes waiting for a ride, or find yourself with nothing to do for a quarter hour.
Also worth mentioning is the excellent control scheme that 10Tons Ltd. built for the XBox One port of this entry--one button to launch the rocks, and one button to reload the level--this last one is a HUGE bonus, as you'll be reloading ten times a round if, like me, you're trying to one-throw those more strangely designed levels. The load times are pretty non-existent, too, which makes it the perfect short-on-time game.
SOUND AND GRAPHICSThe vibe of King Oddball is, as mentioned above, a little bit Katamari Damacy, and a little bit Tim Burton. The former comes from the ball-like space royalty causing mass destruction, and the latter comes from the ominous yet cute cartoon characters. The King himself has a menacing glare, but the jolly tilt of his tiny crown and his big-toothed growling mouth is comical rather than scary. Likewise, the tanks and copters are reminiscent of un-pixelated war-machines from a Metal Slug entry, though the chibi soldiers red-lensed eyes are equal parts creepy and adorable.
The presentation of the characters is firmly set in the mobile game style, that is to say, bold colors, bold shading, and very crisp edges. This crispness is present everywhere but in the gradient-colored backgrounds, which seem to have some sort of low-res or dithering effect placed over them. It isn't unpleasant, but it contrasted enough with the character sprites that I spent a moment on launch checking to see if it was due to signal interference somewhere in my setup.
The soundtrack to King Oddball is worth mentioning also; it's a kind of "salsa dirge", or classical guitar for the spooky, and it fits with the space-king destroyer of worlds vibe. It is, however, the only track I found in the game, which caused my fiance to nearly lose her mind. Luckily, the game is just as fun with the sound off.
The sound effects, while simple, are satisfying (I particularly liked the clacking sound when a boulder bounces--sort of like a magnified piece of chalk smacking onto the pavement.) These are limited, though, and you'll be hearing the same ones time after time, with no real variation.
CONCLUSIONConcisely put, King Oddball is a great physics game with a slew of levels and some extra challenges that switch things up just when it would otherwise get tired. With pleasing art direction and an adequate if limited soundtrack, you'll find yourself whacking many-a armed military units into dust on your way across the map.
Pick this one up on XBox One, PS4, PC, or your portable of choice, if you're in the mood for a solid and casual time waster with enough content to more than justify the cost (or if you're just tired of watching enraged bird-feathers fly).
|+ Addictive physics-based gameplay||- Lack of a good challenge|
|+ Pleasing character design (for those of us who are weirdos)||- Repetitive soundtrack that may bother roomies|
|+ Plethora of levels and achievements||- Not a good fit for long play sessions|
|+ Great for few-minute sessions|