If you were alive during the 80s, you might vaguely remember a line of crude toys called “Madballs“. The product’s popularity was rather short lived, and it spawned an unsuccessful TV show and comic series.
After more than two decades, Playbrain has attempted to resurrect Madballs as an Xbox Live Arcade shooter, which happens to have the worst title in the platform’s history: Madballs in Babo: Invasion. Read on to find out whether or not this incessant creation should be put to rest.
The premise of Babo: Invasion is absolutely absurd, yet eerily delightful. In short, the good side (The B*D*I) and the bad side (The Scorched Militia) are stuck on a planet and have to duke it out. Any story you get over the course of the game will be delivered in non-verbal text, so you don’t have to worry about the sound of your own laughter being spoken over.
Madballs allows you to get right in the action with either a 10 level single player campaign, or an online multiplayer mode. As soon as I booted it up, I was ready to dive right into the local multiplayer, only to find out it didn’t exist. There are absolutely no split-screen or same-screen options in Madballs, which is rather shocking, considering this is mentioned briefly on the extra details page and not in the general description.
A few of Madball’s gameplay highlights include the experience system and the ability to customize your characters. Every enemy you kill in every mode of the game (including multiplayer) will earn you more experience points that go towards unlocking new characters and weapons. To further add to the diversity of the game, each Madball has a different ability; for instance, Oculus Orbus can charge attack enemies, and Boba can use his jet pack to traverse terrain.
Both factions have their respective unlocks, which require multiple playthroughs. If you don’t want to go into the multiplayer arena completely devoid of power ups, then it’s a good idea to complete the game in its entirety. Also, the game purposely puts a large number of locked weapons and character-change stations in early levels to encourage the replay of the game. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a cop-out. Because the levels are so uninspiring, you probably won’t want to play through them again unless it’s with some friends.
Over the course of the game’s single player campaign, I wasn’t really too impressed with either the enemy design or the level layouts. Nearly every standard enemy looks the same, and all of them sound like Rowlf, the famous talking dog from the Muppet Show (coincidence?). By level four, I grew tired of the standard “shoot enemy; progress” theme, and the game’s AI is extremely poor. If you’re a screen lengths away from most of the foes in the game, they’ll refuse to return fire or move until you kill them.
While I found the single player experience to be rather banal, the multiplayer aspect of the game was a bit more enthralling. Along with a four player cooperative campaign, you’ll get a six-on-six versus mode and avatar play.
Madball’s avatar mode in itself is a forgettable experience, unless you’re a hardcore NXE fan, you’ll find this mode’s luster wears off pretty quickly. Additionally, while the versus gametypes of deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag are pretty self explanatory, invasion mode is a unique gametype I haven’t seen very often.
Every match of invasion mode will be a different experience because you actually build the map with your team before beginning combat. You can vote with other players to place tiles of terrain, select your base location, and choose where you want your auxiliary defense system to go. The objective is to destroy your enemies’ base, which is quite fun when mixed in with the strategic placement element.
If online multiplayer isn’t your bag, hardcore completionists will find that Madballs‘ 50 secret pickups are well hidden, as I wasn’t able to find nearly any of them during my first play through. Casual players may also find the desire to unlock every character, weapon and ability by replaying the game’s missions online. All-in-all, the community is larger than most Xbox Live Arcade games, which means Madballs succeeds in giving you some bang for you buck, provided you don’t grow tired of shooting things.
Visually, there’s nothing to write home about. While Madballs isn’t on the lower end of the Xbox Live Arcade spectrum, you’ll notice a lot of cheesy effects and uninspired designs. The Madballs themselves, however, each have a distinctly different look to them, which is refreshing should you feel the need to switch characters.
You won’t find anything special in the sound department, either, as everyone of the game’s musical tracks are forgettable ambiance, and the dialogue is filled with poorly delivered one liners such as, “It’s always fun until someone loses an eye!”
Madballs in Babo: Invasion will no doubt be met with a polarized audience. There is quite a bit of content to fiddle with, and at its core, it is a mindless shooter. Madball enthusiasts will also be disappointed to hear that only two characters are included from the original toy line, which is a shame because so much more could have been done with the license. While it wasn’t a horrible outing, after twenty years and some change, it feels like Madballs could have been a better experience.
Just about everything in Madballs in Babo: Invasion feels uninspired, and often times, you'll feel like you've played the same level over and over. You'll also be taking a constant frame rate hit when more than a few objects are on the screen.
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Madball's best quality is that it's fairly easy to pick up and play. Whether or not you'll enjoy the bland level and weapon designs, however, is up to you.
The voice overs are cheesy in a unenjoyable form, and the musical choices are pretty bland, which is a shame considering most shooters have an exciting soundtrack.
Despite the lack of local multiplayer support, there are enough online modes to keep you busy for a while. If you're stuck without a Gold account, you'll likely hit your boredom limit at the five hour mark.
Unless you're a die-hard shooter fan, it's really hard to recommend picking up Madballs in Babo: Invasion. While the game controls like a dream, it just isn't much fun to play.