Madballs in... Babo: Invasion
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-07-30 Xbox 360 Shooter E10 (Everyone 10+) Playbrains / Microsoft

For those unfamiliar with the Madballs name, the franchise began in the mid-1980s with a line of gross-out ball-shaped toys designed around monsters, mutants and other creepy-crawlers. Two of the original Madballs, Oculus Orbus and Horn Head, make appearances in Madballs in... Babo: Invasion, an arcade shooter that has Oculus performing as the game's unofficial mascot and main character.

The story in Babo: Invasion has something to do with a group of mercenaries who have stumbled onto an ancient device with the power of either helping or destroying the galaxy, depending on the inclinations of those wielding it. Other than that, the story, which is presented via the occasional text bubble and stationary picture, is hard to follow and ultimately inconsequential (as if anyone plays a shooter for its story).

The game throws you into the field of war with the original goal of infiltrating a tropical temple and defeating the baddies inside, before sending you across the galaxy via spaceship to a snow-covered planet where the rest of the game unfolds. The name of the game is repetition, with each level being comprised of compartmentalized areas that must be cleared before moving onto the next (the process normally being completed by flipping a switch to unlock the next section).

Each area is filled with an assortment of also spherical enemies who will fire at you from afar with machine guns, rush in for the kill with flamethrowers or ice guns, or lob grenades at you from an upper platform. That being said, the worlds are filled with environmental cover (hills, ruins, crates and so on) that allow you to regain your bearings during heated battles, so long as you're not surrounded by torch wielding kamikazes who will follow you relentlessly until one of you dies.

You have a variety of weapons in your arsenal, with progressively stronger options becoming available as you deal damage with the previous ones. Each weapon has two firing modes, based on one of four essentially elemental types, like ice or fire (although they are not named as such). Switching modes is as simple as pressing either Y or A, which allows you to play to each enemy's weakness, as each has its own type, and is weak to the opposite (cold things hate fire, and so on).

Stronger Madballs are also unlocked as you play, through an in-depth unlockable system that plays out much like 360 achievements, requiring you to complete a task before handing out the rewards.

Switching Madballs becomes as easy as finding a transport station in the middle of the level and pressing a button, but, counter-intuitively, switching a weakened Madball with another doesn't renew your health, as your new character magically carries the same defects as the last.

Each level is fairly linear, with the exception of a few small cut-outs, at the end of which lie extra life bubbles, health, munitions (grenades and/or Molotov cocktails), or digital journal entries that make the story even more confusing than it already is, by telling the tale of a group of explorers who once traveled your same path.

One thing to note is the game's unusual aiming system, which has you controlling your crosshair by aiming for an area at the far edge of the screen, rather than something actually in your vicinity. In this way, when you fire, you end up hitting everything in your path, rather than any one particular enemy, which takes some getting used to. After the initial acclimation period, however, the system works well, and actually helps in intense situations where stronger bullets can attack more than one enemy at once.

Even though the game's single player campaign is already lengthy and content heavy, in terms of arcade titles, the online portion contains just as much content and supports up to 16 players in various iterations of either co-op (up to four players) or battle gameplay. The star here is the ability to build battle arenas from the ground up, tile by tile, and then wage war on your newly formed geographical masterpiece. With dozens of characters, weapons and upgrades to choose from, it's unlikely you'll run into the same online gameplay experience twice.

Unfortunately, the variety is cut a bit short in the graphical department, as there are three main themes to levels - the aforementioned tropical temples and snow-covered mountain ranges, and a third, the inside of the spaceship that connects the two worlds.

That being said, what variety is present is handled well with surprisingly crisp graphics. Even though the game is played from a mostly top-down perspective, it's still a 3D experience, with pillars jutting upwards or low valleys that compliment the entire package.

Likewise, the sound department performs nicely, especially in more intense battle sequences, during which gun-fire and explosions give a sense of realism to an admittedly shallow premise.

For all that could be said about the title's repetitious nature, Madballs in... Babo: Invasion is a highly accessible and incredibly fun shooter that combines the simple humor of the game's characters (some of which resemble body parts, others squished robots or aliens) with a flurry of more mature shooter elements to create a experience that is well worth the $10 price of admission.

Special thanks to David Bruno and Playbrains for providing a copy of this title.