The old tagline for the Madballs collectible toys of the 1980s was "Obnoxious And Gross!" which should tell you a lot about both the 80s and what to expect from squishy balls with disgusting faces.
However, apart from starring revolting balls, Babo Invasion isn't really affiliated with the toy line, the subsequent cartoon or the comic book series that spawned like bacteria colonies in the 80s. Lately, Madballs have been getting a bit revival thanks to a 2006 deal between the original rights holders, American Greetings, and Art Asylum. Riding that wave is Madballs in Babo Invasion – an Xbox Live Arcade multiplayer title that takes the best of that tagline and adds a whole lot more.
What Is It? Madballs in Babo Invasion is the first console game created by Canadian developer, Playbrains. It's a "casually hardcore" multiplayer-centric game that supports up to 16 players in online versus mode or four players in online co-op through the 10-level singleplayer campaign. Because the game relies so heavily on the multiplayer experience, Microsoft has allowed the developer to put up an "extensive" multiplayer trial – pretty rare for an XBLA game.
What We Saw I spent about an hour with the game, poking at singleplayer mode and getting my butt kicked by the development team in two of the online multiplayer modes.
How Far Along Is It? The release date is still "Summer 2009," but the game looked awfully final to me.
What Needs Improvement? Gross Factor Is Kind Of Hard To See: The game features two views, top-down and third-person. In either view, however, you can't appreciate how obscene and disgusting the Madballs really are. That was the appeal of the toys, the comics and the TV-show: the disgustingness of exposed brain sections, fangs, throbbing veins and stitched gashes. Without that, the gross factor goes away and you kind of miss out on the nostalgia of seeing a Madball you might once have owned (and thrown out a car window) as a child.
What Should Stay The Same? The Gameplay: There's a complexity to the various weapons, five different classes and two factions of Madball that gives the game a lot of depth; however, anyone could pick, play and enjoy it. Each weapon has two types of ammo – say, a fire shot and an energy shot – and the Madballs themselves have vulnerabilities to different types of ammo. It's like rock-paper-scissors only with way more options, plus you can still kill people even if you don't have the type of ammo they're weak to. The five classes are Assault, Flyer, Support, Heavy and Runner (which doesn't make any sense because eyeballs don't have legs). Both factions, the good BDI and the bad Scorched Brotherhood, have access to all weapons and all classes – but which side you're on determines which Madballs you can play as. This matters because each Madball has a special ability – like the Scorched Brotherhood's Magmor who can expand in size and crush other Madballs in multicolored explosions of goo. It's pretty cool and there's an Achievement if you can kill 100 other Madballs that way.
Invasion Mode: This multiplayer mode combines elements of map-building, point-control strategy and hide-and-seek. The game ships with 150 tiles which can be assembled into a multiplayer map. However, here's the catch – your team builds only half of a level and the other team builds the other half. You can't see what they're doing and they can't see what you've built. Once you're finished, you pick a place on your side of the map to position your base. The other possible locations become energy nodes that support the barrier around your base. Then the real game begins where you have to capture all energy nodes on the map to bring down the enemy base's barrier and subsequently destroy the enemy base. It's really fun and still keeps up the frenetic pace despite the strategy element.
Avatar Mode: This is a basic deathmatch multiplayer mode – however, the game uses your Xbox Live Avatar as a character. This is accomplished through the "decappuccino machine" which subtracts your Avatar's body from its head. Then you get to roll around like a Madball and shoot other rolling heads. The more people you kill, the larger your head grows, making you an easier target.
Final Thoughts There is a lot to like about this game. Aside from what's mentioned above, I appreciate that the game will ship with 21 maps and Playbrains is already planning out more for downloadable content. Having played Madballs in Babo Invasion I believe the motto that the developers have posted on their homepage: "We absolutely believe that downloaded entertainment can be as rich and immersive as traditional retail games, and we are committed to creating easily-distributed, high-quality fun across all game genres." I'm looking forward to what they come out with next.