Those of you unfortunate enough to be in a similar age bracket to myself may well remember a time when the internet wasn’t quite so speedy, and the best thing to do whilst awaiting someone to login to mIRC, ICQ etc. was to play a quick game of Minesweeper or Solitaire whilst browsing through your Winamp files. These days, that’s all been replaced by bigger and better things; what better way to waste a few minutes than to snap Sky Sports News whilst you play a few levels of a game.
Enter King Oddball from Finnish developer 10tons, an iPhone game that has been ported over to the Xbox One (and virtually everything else you could imagine). Offering a no-frills, iOS-priced experience at £3.99, King Oddball almost begs you to switch your brain off from the moment you open the game, and just tap, tap away for hours on end.
I say, ‘switch your brain off’, because the first thing that the game said to me after completing the opening level was ‘EPIC WIN’. To be quite honest, I wanted to switch my Xbox off there and then, let alone my brain; it was all ever so awkward. But, the more you play, the less you pay attention.
Simple in concept, and even simpler in any kind of story, King Oddball has you playing the titular role of a giant boulder with a concrete hat, slinging smaller boulders from his tongue at tanks, helicopters and army personnel. Yes, I can’t even believe I wrote that myself.
The aim of each level is to destroy all army objects using a limited amount of boulders, all through a perfectly-timed press of the A button. Well, I say perfectly-timed, but in fact, the game isn’t really as responsive as it should be, which I guess is the price you pay for swapping a quick tap of a phone screen to a press of a button on a controller. It’s fine enough to function, though. Throw in a few environmental props like explosives, and you’ve got something very similar to Angry Birds.
Like or loathe Angry Birds (I was recently subjected to the horrors of the movie, so I’m in the latter camp at the moment), at least the presentation provides some kind of charm. King Oddball, himself, on the other hand, is absolutely abhorrent. The art in general is just not pleasant to look at (or, ‘eccentric’, which is the word provided by the developer), and even though the game is a mobile port, there’s just nothing about it that appeals. Add in some poor framerates, uninspired baroque-like music, and tepid sound effects, and again, you’re brought back to having something that’s best played when you can focus on something else.
Games like this rely on their addicting qualities, and with over 160 levels, plus multiple variations in game types (use one boulder to clear the level instead of three!), there’s certainly a lot of content to keep you playing for as long as you want to. Did I want to keep playing, though?
Not really. The thing is, King Oddball isn’t really much of an oddball at all. Apart from looking like Thanos on a bad day, there’s just no variety here; after you’ve played the first few levels, you’ve played the other hundred-odd. When after a couple of hours of play, if all the game can muster is to put a little shield around a tank, then you know you’re in trouble. Despite the fact that 10tons were obviously short on ideas once they’d got their central mechanic, they’re desperate to shove level after level down your throat. The main ‘campaign’ takes place on a gridded map; complete a level, and more squares on the map are uncovered. Complete all of the squares on a section of the map, and another section opens. When you first start playing, you’re quite eager to uncover space after space, but after a while, it becomes a tedious chore.
To try and break the monotony of it all, there are sub-games included throughout the map. These are, however, just more of the same; replace the boulders with grenades, use a single boulder and so on. Ultimately, despite offering a free boulder for when King Oddball gets hit in the face, the game just isn’t any fun. I’d never played it on an iPhone, but I can’t imagine it being fun on there either. It just kind of exists, really.