Madballs first invaded kids bedrooms back in the mid 80’s as collectible foam balls with names such as Screamin Meemie, Skull Face and Crack Head – later renamed to Bash Brain for obvious reasons. Fast forwarding to more recent years has seen a relaunch of the brand with a redesigned collection of Madballs and now the release of Madballs: Babo Invasion for Xbox Live Arcade.
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The campaign, which can be played in single player or up to four players in co-op, follows an easily forgettable story in which you play as either the Babo or Scorched factions. You battle your way through ten levels covering a variety of locations with the usual themes including jungles, snowy wastes, space crafts and ruined temples. The game draws inspiration from games such as Alien Breed and it’s top down view with rooms linked by corridors and platforms, through to Marble Madness in the way you must navigate some levels via platforms. This is an interesting mix of ideas but the majority of levels feel like you are playing on rails with few options to explore, instead you are forced to roll down a single corridor to continue. Tasks vary throughout the game, some levels are simply to fight your way through the enemy to reach an end of level boss. Later levels are more puzzle based where you must activate switches or collect and use keys in a certain order to progress.
Graphics look OK and give a bright and cartoon feel with its lack of detail. Explosions, weapons fire and splatters are big and look nice. On some maps with a full team of players or a larger number of enemies battling it out things do get a bit hectic and the game stutters a little. The music adds to the atmosphere and reminds me of old demo tracker music but the style felt a little mismatched on some levels. Sound effects are great, different weapons fire are easily recognisable and the Madballs occasionally shout out phrases now and again to add a bit of comic effect.
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Madballs follows a character class system totaling six characters and five weapons per faction which can be swapped at regular checkpoints in a level. Initially you start with one weapon and class and the remainder are unlocked by dealing damage with weapons and characters. Each character has differing strengths and weaknesses, for example the light class offers faster movement but less health, while the heavy class has slower movement with a higher amount of health.
Weapons are varied and are placed at checkpoints where they are usually best suited for the next part of the level. They deal two types of damage as both you and the enemy are resistant and weak to types of damage such as Energy, Cold and Impact. This offers a nice strategy when choosing your character and weapon but I felt more drawn to choosing the heavier class as it was easier to control and take on enemies.
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Due to the game design it is not always easy to engage the enemy at different heights to your character. You often find yourself firing at thin air due to the way the gun reticule automatically adjusts to aim at an enemy. This can usually be fixed by moving your character or gun aim around, but if you do not adjust fast enough against a few enemy battle it can result in an annoying death.
The campaign also has a single player and co-op Level Attack mode which allows you to replay the campaign with the aim to score as many points as possible. Scattered throughout each level and on dead enemies are multipliers which after completing the level are used to multiply your final score. You lose multipliers by being damaged or dying so you find yourself being more attentive when playing. Scores are uploaded to the online leaderboards and make a nice alternative from playing the game in the normal way as you try to beat your friends scores.
With over 20 maps and a good selection of game modes; Skirmish, Team Skirmish, Capture the Flag, Invasion and Avatar Attack, the multiplayer aspect of Madballs is well catered for. The maps differ in size, theme and design and are varied enough not to get bored of them fast. The Invasion mode allows you to design your own map through a simple tile drop system, each player places a tile from a set of pre designed tiles and the team votes on the best locations for the mission objectives. Invasion is a great addition and adds a lot of re-playability to the game with near infinite map designs.
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Avatar Attack replaces the Madball characters with your Xbox Avatar in a Skirmish game. It is hilarious watching your avatars head increase in size as you collect score multipliers and is a good example of how avatars can be used in games and not just an addition to claim they are being used.
The multiplayer games can be a bit hit and miss with issues of lag occasionally rearing it’s ugly head (I was only allowed one head pun in this review and that is it). This can result in a near impossible game as the enemies appear and disappear in random places while you are trying to attack. Fortunately the game has a good game search function which lets you see what games are currently in progress with a ping indicator.
Multiplayer is great fun and overshadows the campaign mode, some of my friends purchased this game just for the multiplayer and have mostly ignored the campaign. The class system still applies and is more apparent than in the campaign due to the players choosing different classes. This can lead to a more strategic game if you are playing properly and requires good communication with team mates to adjust weapons and classes depending on the enemy strengths and weaknesses. The online community is fairly busy and I have always managed to find a game in progress.
At 800 :MSPoints:, Madballs: Babo Invasion is good value. The campaign will take you around five hours to complete, the co-op and Score Attack modes do offer some re-playability but once you have played a few times it can get repetitive. The main value is in the multiplayer game, as long as there is a good sized community playing you will have many hours of action packed hilarity and mayhem.0