[Acorn Gaming]



[ 3/5 *** 3/5 ]

[Oddball Logo]

There are very few good original 32-bit Acorn games. All the bestsellers such as Lemmings are ports from other computers. In fact, with the possible exception of Nevryon which has sold over 10,000 copies, noone has had a runaway success with developing games for 32-bit Acorn computers. Is this about to change? I doubt it, but if this new game from Digital Psychosis is anything to go by, then things are definitely looking up!

Oddball is a rare beast; one of the few original games I have seen in the past few years. The principle - bat'n'ball game - may not be new, but I've never seen anything quite like this. To start with, it's all on an absolutely massive scale. In fact, the first thing that strikes you about this game is the overpoweringly large scale of the graphics! So large, in fact, that you can only ever see a few squares of the playing area at once. Fortunately help is at hand in the form of a scanner showing a map of the surrounding area, the level of detail of which increases as you progress through the game collecting power-ups, of which there are many different types. Each level is completed once you have destroyed all of a certain type of block.

[Labelled game screen]

The game is entirely mouse-controlled, so if you've got a dying Acorn rodent you might find this game just a bit infuriating! Strangely enough, however, all the game options are controlled entirely from the keyboard - you can't even use the mouse to start the game, which does seem a bit odd!

Acorn games are notorious for their awful presentation. Oddball kicks this trend in the face, with a lovingly crafted loading screen, and plenty of jazzy fade effects throughout the game. Even the box is of a high standard, with glossy full- colour prints on both the front and back of the CD-style jewel case. The game also features an attract (demo) mode, which gives you hints about how to play the game.

[Screenshot] The graphics are well-drawn, but perhaps a little lacking in variety, although there are different graphics sets to be seen as you progress through the game. The main game ball, however, seems a bit dull and unimaginative - it's clearly just a graduated-fill applied to a circle, and has no frames animation at all! At least the game does not suffer from the usual (Acorn) malaise of over-use of bright colours - the game is pleasingly refined in appearance.

Noone could accuse the programmer of laziness, however. The game is littered with attention to detail, from the impressive full-screen, full-colour parallax scrolling (which at times is three-levels deep!), through the way the different power-ups spit swirling stars all over the screen, to the animated `wobbling' effect applied to the background. I've seen whole Acorn demos which feature as their only attraction far less than this game includes merely in passing. There are also plenty of game configuration options - for example you can set the mouse sensitivity and the sound quality, and set up a hotkey for any menu option. There's also a `boss' key for hiding the game in case you want to play it at work...

There is only one music track, which I soon turned off, and the sound effects are sparse and unimaginative. I disabled these too once I got hold of the `magnet' power-up, since it emits a repetitive screeching sound whilst in use.

[Screenshot ]Cosmetics aside, however, how does Oddball fare in terms of gameplay? To be honest, I can't help feeling that perhaps more attention has been paid to the appearance of the game than to the playability, and possibly the fact that this game was originally written as a demo of a sprite-plotting module is telling. That said, however, the three skill levels present a wide-ranging challenge. Everyone should be able to play the game on `easy', whilst the hardest skill level would be a nightmare for the even the best gamer. The difficult of levels tends to undulate somewhat. I found that the game suddenly got hard on level four (although you can take advantage of hidden features on earlier levels to get powerups which will make it considerably easier!)

In some ways this game is what you make it - as easy or difficult as you like. I found that sadly the game was at times more a test of patience than anything else. Half of the problem is that some of the levels are just so large it's silly. If it takes 30 minutes merely to travel all the way around a level, where's the fun? The game would have been more enjoyable with smaller, more skillful levels. Although you can save the game at any point (although this ability can be disabled for a greater challenge so that you can only save at the end of each level), I'd still much have preferred shorter, snappier levels. If it takes too long to complete a level it takes away all the fun. It also makes discovering the myriad hidden features far more daunting! (And, therefore, more unlikely).

So I've complained about the size of the levels. Sadly, this is a rather major flaw. People's attention starts to wander after a bit, and concentrating for a very long period of time is just no fun. If there was tonnes and tonnes of variety then this would help sustain interest, but there isn't - not within a level, at any rate.

This really is a game you could play through again and again, because it relies on skill rather than learning a `correct' route through the game, and there really is loads to discover in it - try and find the magnet on the first level, if you want a challenge! But would you want to? Not unless you have an awful lot of time on your hands, you wouldn't.

But this game has one truly amazing virtue I haven't mentioned yet - its unbelievably low price. The entire game costs only £8.95, which considering that no expense has been spared on the game - full-colour adverts in magazines, the excellent case, and the use of high-quality TDK media - this is nothing short of incredible.

And honestly, for such a low price can you really lose? It's only a bit more than the cost of two Archimedes Worlds, and in terms of value for money Oddball is infinitely better!

Review by Gareth Moore, ©1996

[ 3/5 *** 3/5 ]

This game is now available for slightly under four pounds with a back issue of Archimedes World - it was included on the cover disc of one issue, and then on the cover CD-ROM of a later issue. Originally sold and distributed by Digital Psychosis.

Other features

The game is hard-disc installable, has a proper desktop front-end, and is configurable to take advantage of the varying speeds of the computers it can be run on (which is all Acorn 32-bit RISC OS computers with 1Mb of memory or more).

...this page last updated: 30/1/96...
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©Gareth Moore 1993-2003

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