Hail to the king or relegated to the bin?
The unappealingly named King Oddball makes way onto home consoles from mobile devices. If you have ever played a popular mobile game where you throw birds across the screen using a slingshot, you are in for a familiar ride. Here’s a 2D physics puzzler, with the aim to wipe enemies out with one simple attack using timing and planned chain reactions. Clearly inspired by perhaps one of the most dominating mobile games of our time – Angry Birds – this is intended as a pick up and play affair whether it be for five minutes or five hours. So how does it fare on consoles?
The premise of Oddball is rather odd, as the name would suggest. You control what can only be described as a giant head (King Oddball himself) with an equally giant tongue. The aforementioned tongue reaches out and grabs a rock before swinging this back and forth across the screen in a pendulum like motion. Placed below the giant head are stationary tanks, soldiers and helicopters. They make no effort to attack back and can be hidden behind walls, under platforms or flying in the air. Using three rocks or less, Oddball has to fling his rock to eliminate all on screen enemies.
It sounds easier than it is. The military can be placed across the screen high and low; at times the task is more daunting as you progress and figuring out how to wipe them clean using just your three rocks requires thought and planning. The gameplay is simple, in fact only one button is used throughout. King Oddball will release his swinging rock on the simple press of the ‘A’ button, so patience and timing is the only way to success other than pot luck. Once all three rocks have been used it’s game over, but a handy retry button greets you anyway so failing isn’t too catastrophic.
If you manage to destroy three enemies or more in one attack you are gifted a gold rock which acts as a free go if you like. Same if a rock manages to hit King Oddball, which can come in handy and sometimes builds into your thought process as you attempt some of the trickier levels.
What sets King Oddball apart from other similar 2D mobile puzzle games are the physics. It’s not enough just to target the stationary enemy with a throw of a rock. Destroying a vehicle will cause an explosion which, in turn, will send rock sprawling away from the explosion in a different direction. It takes time to learn how the explosion angles work and at times it can feel a little random. The trick is to learn how to throw the rock and calculate each chain reaction. Once you get the hang of it all it can be extremely satisfying watching the rock explode from one tank to another and it’s entirely possible to take out multiple vehicles on screen with just one throw.
Of course the latter levels provide more testing elements such as shielded enemies or indestructible platforms. Calculated planning of possible chain reactions is key; being able to ricochet your rock from one side to another causing a chain reaction of more than three enemies providing you with an extra rock seems the only way forward, even then it sometimes feels that it’s not enough and that more rocks are needed. It’s certainly a challenge and a healthy one; never did I feel that it was impossible or that it felt impossible.
No story exists to overcomplicate the basic gameplay. No spoken dialogue, no cut scene, just you your ridiculously long tongue. King Oddball is packed with over 160 levels to take on plus a sack full of bonus levels, although they offer nothing in way of a reward other than a different challenge. No problem, a change of pace can be needed when attempting the same level over and over without making any real progress. One of the bonus levels is the diamond levels where the objective is to complete the level with at least one rock remaining. It’s an interesting challenge, but ultimately ends up feeling like a bit of a rip off attempt at getting you to replay the whole game again as you are not rewarded for achieving the same feat during the normal campaign.
The game is also crying out for some kind of scoring system. There is no incentive for causing big chain reactions or completing a level fashionably using just the one or two rocks other than for self-satisfaction. On the subject of lack of any recognition, upon the completion of each level you are greeted by in game messages such as ‘Epic Win’, ‘Spectacular’ and ‘Rather Nice’ no matter how well (or badly) you perform. The King is clearly very gracious in victory, but this does take away from the replay value.
Graphically it looks like a mobile game; the 2D art style is okay, nothing spectacular and small budget in line with a budget priced game. They serve a purpose and so does the repetitive music which soon becomes grating and boring. It would work fine on mobile as often mobile games are played between tasks and/or without the sound, when played on big screens it becomes notable and unenjoyable.
King Oddball has clearly been influenced by the phenomenon that is Angry Birds. The similarities are clear and the formula near identical. If you enjoyed Angry Birds you may well enjoy the same challenge, but instead of flinging birds across the screen, you throw rocks using a tongue from a giant head in the sky. That kind of sums it all up, not as appealing as a bunch of angry birds, not quite as addictive, but an interesting and alternate challenge none the less.
King Oddball was provided to us by Microsoft via a download code for Xbox One.