King Oddball is another entry in the physics-based puzzle genre that Angry Birds popularised. Developed by 10tons Ltd, King Oddball is a surreal experience, from its strange title character to its unique aesthetic and unassuming score. Already released on mobile platforms and PC last year, King Oddball makes its way onto the PS Vita as a flat out port. So, is it actually good to be the King? Will you actually want to play on in your quest to end the world, as the game’s tagline says? Read on as we make that determination.
King Oddball doesn’t need any weaponry but some giant boulders to wipe out the world’s army and reign supreme over its people. With his tongue he automatically picks up one at a time, up to three in total, and begins to swing them back and forth. All the player has to do is tap the screen, or press ‘X’ to release the boulder. This is where a finely tuned physics system takes control, representing momentum and trajectory accurately and causing the projectile to bounce off of hard objects in a direction relative to its impact point, angle of approach and speed. There is no star rating system or the like here – you either complete the level or you don’t. At first, there are few obstacles as tanks are in your clear line of sight, but the game quickly ramps up.
Brick clusters and other material blocks (all breakable) form constructs making it difficult to reach soldiers, tanks and helicopters. Sometimes, strategically knocking them over or collapsing a structure can work to your advantage. Soon enough, explosive blocks are introduced, as are bouncy balls. And no, the tanks don’t fire back. Boulders go clear through soldiers as they seem to just disappear in a poof when struck. There are 120+ levels spread out across 9 regions on a world map, which can be traversed one square unit at a time. Once an entire region has been cleaned out, the next unlocks. Offering the player choice in which order they tackle the completion of a region is essentially pointless, as at the end of the day, you must do every single one regardless. There’s no getting around them.
If you manage to make a boulder bounce back to hit King Oddball, you gain an extra, gold boulder, which doesn’t possess any special qualities. There’s even a trophy amongst the 16 available which tasks you with gaining 5 additional boulders in one level. There is a notable lack of variety in the enemies and other gameplay elements, which hurts the experience somewhat. However, there are numerous secondary “modes” if you can call them that – more like challenge sets – such as the One Rock levels, the Hall of Diamonds (ability to replay levels in an attempt to ace them with one rock, similar to the dedicated One Rock levels), Grenade levels (boulders replaced with the explosive) and even a Secret World! There’s also a Speak with the King Siri-esque feature, although I personally haven’t found a phrase that garners an exciting response.
Visuals & Audio
One visual aspect that immediately stands out in King Oddball is the grain filter present throughout. Why utilise a scratchy, grainy image quality? Who knows. Is this a game set before the 1960’s? Nope, it’s not based in real-life. It was, rather simply, an artistic choice and one that speaks to the wackiness of the title. No one can argue its distinct look and feel. I mean, look at King Oddball – what is he?! After playing this, I can’t imagine a scarier Earth invasion than that of levitating, Green Goblin-looking disembodied heads throwing boulders with their elongated, purple tongues. Who even dreams up such a concept? And how does that crown stick to his smooth, rocky dome?! So many questions?!
The skies of the backdrops look like Van Gogh paintings, and the use of various shades creates a sense of depth whilst maintaining the visual theme of each level. Each does not stretch past its established colour palette, but gets the most out of it. The overall colour palette is very warm, with even the coolest of colours being darkened to a more muted tone. And speaking of weird character designs earlier, the bouncy balls that appear in some stages reminds of Wilson, the volleyball from Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. Musically, King Oddball is just as confounding. The original music by Jonathan Geer is unthematic in its quaint, innocent sound. The main menu theme in particular sounds like it would fit better in a Professor Layton game.
The best word to describe King Oddball can be found in the game’s title: odd. The design of the King himself is Exhibit A… some rock-helmet wearing, rotund, spherical thing with an inexplicably long, grotesque tongue. Whoever came up with this at 10tons Ltd was definitely high at the time. That’s not even a joke – I am damn sure of it. Is marijuana legal in Finland? Anyway, back on point, King Oddball can pose quite the frustrating challenge, and its quirky presentation certainly sets it apart. Maybe its the little variety of the gameplay, the lack of integration of PS Vita exclusive features or its weird style that doesn’t completely connect with me, but King Oddball – as rock-solid as it is – failed to make a large impression. It’s also the same experience as its iOS counterpart for a higher price on the Sony handheld, which should factor into your decision to purchase this release.
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