Proof a flying squirrel is not just a fancy move in SSX.
[In Sir David Attenborough’s voice] The little known momonga is a Japanese flying squirrel. Native to Japan, growing to a length of 20 cm with a membrane connecting its wrists and ankles enabling the momonga to glide from tree to tree.
Okay, you can stop reading this review as if it were read by the great Sir David, but it’s a wonder that these cute little aerial ninjas aren’t referred to more in popular culture. Developers Paladin Studios are doing just that with their choice of the mighty momonga as their protagonist. It leads the way in their pinball game Momonga Pinball Adventures, which is transitioning from mobile devices to consoles.
Evil owls have destroyed a village of momonga’s and have taken the tribe hostage. You awake in control of Momo the last momonga in his village in the presence of Panda the…erm…panda. Panda informs you of the devastation wrought on your tribe and offers to train you to seek revenge and set your tribe free in the deadly battle of… erm… pinball. Okay, so not everything makes sense or ties together, but it’s hard not to fall for the bright and colourful charm of the visuals, and the cuteness of Momo. A momonga certainly isn’t the first animal that pops into my head when thinking of pinball, not a particularly spherical animal to say the least, but hey they could add a different dimension to the traditional pinball theme.
As with the majority of pinball games, there are few buttons to press and the challenge comes down to timing and attempting to beat your high score. There are not huge differences here compared to other pinball games down the years. To add to the mix there are some elements of flying involved in some levels; simply this means moving Momo from left to right to avoid any obstacles or to collect stars for additional points.
The gameplay is simple and levels are not particularly long or challenging. With only 9 levels to play it does feel a little short. Each level offers up 5 challenges, from breaking all objects to collecting all the stars, adding another dimension and something to think about as your flipping your squirrel (quiet at the back). However these challenges are at random and unknown until the game loads up the level, it would have been more preferable to be able to select your challenge at will rather than in hope. The result is lost time quitting and trying again when not getting the challenge you would like a go at, before giving up hope and moving on to something else.
To compliment the story missions are three bonus levels, one of which sees you playing as the panda flying on rails using the bumper buttons on your controller to move left or right collecting confectionary to score points, touch a cloud and the game ends. There doesn’t seem to be any objective other than to score as highly as possible. Another bonus level sees you playing a level similar to the traditional game of pachinko, with the aim to score as many points before you reach the bottom in three tries. The final bonus level is the games version of horde mode, facing waves of different pinball levels until all three lives are used. All bonus levels offer up a welcome change of pace and a different challenge whilst competing for glory on a global leaderboard.
Getting the high score has traditionally been the aim of pinball, where the longevity and addiction comes in. Sadly there are too few elements in the game allowing you to build up your score other than a few breakable elements and stars to collect. There are no bumpers, no targets, no spinners, gates, rollovers and whilst ramps make an appearance on some levels they only lead to a basic, small part off the main level. Much more could have been done to make things more interesting and exciting when attempting the high score.
Things do get slightly more interesting when multiple balls, or in this case multiple mammals, come into play during some levels sadly it only lasts a short time and only offers a mole to contend with as well as Momo. Boss fights make an interesting twist when appearing in some of the later levels. Disappointingly the same mechanic is used time and time again with the basic premise to hit the nearby bell to daze the owl, which in turn brings down its defences, leaving the owl prone to attack. Surely with the abilities of a momonga, a flying squirrel, much more could have been done to mix up the gameplay?
Graphically the game is solid: it’s full of bright and vivid colours, clearly aimed at young children, although can be admired and enjoyed by all ages. For a game ported from mobile devices the graphics are actually very good, although it’s clear the menu was designed for touch screen devices. It’s a little more fiddly using a controller. Sound wise, the port hasn’t made quite the same transition. The sounds are okay and about what you would expect from a pinball game, but there are few of them and are instantly forgettable. Sure, they would have served a purpose when playing on your journey to work, but when playing on large televisions in your front room it feels too basic and isn’t immersive.
Momonga Pinball Adventures is an okay pick up and play game. I’m left thinking so much more could have been done to mix up the gameplay a little and add in different ways of scoring. At the beginning of this review I mentioned momongas are not particularly popular in popular culture. This doesn’t change that. The developers have missed a trick by not utilising their flying abilities more to mix up the gameplay and add in interesting ways of increasing high scores. It does have a certain charm, it’s a cute game and it’s hard not to fall in love with the art style. More levels would add to the longevity and there is a hint at DLC or a sequel at the end of the story. Maybe this is where we will begin to see some of those improvements. Until then, if it’s simple fun without any complicated mechanics you are looking for, you could do a lot worse.
Momonga Pinball Adventures was reviewed with a download code of the Xbox One edition, provided by Xbox.