While the physics puzzler has come into a renaissance of sorts thanks to a bunch of grumpy avians, the subsequent deluge of wannabe games has proven to be less than inspiring for the most part.
Happily, King Oddball by developer 10 Tons is one such effort that goes against the grain with well structured, fiendishly engineered puzzles, and well implemented PlayStation features to keep players coming back for more. That said, this is still very much a game in the mould of Rovio’s stupendously successful money-printing machine Angry Birds, so its premise might well remain too familiar for some.
King Oddball’s plot, such as it is, concerns the titular insane monarch depicted as a rock in the sky (complete with freakishly long tongue) who must decimate the various armies who are intruding upon his territories. Really though, it’s just a thinly-veiled excuse to get some bombastic physics based puzzling going.
At its core, King Oddball is proud to wear its Angry Birds inspiration on its digital sleeves. Each two-dimensional stage is comprised of enemies placed at strategic places which must be destroyed by whip-lashing a rock-based projectile in their direction; with the relevant notice taken of the angle of each shot and the collateral damage of walls, explosive boxes and other objects to achieve optimum destruction.
Where so many like-minded physics puzzlers typically trip up however, is with lazy level design and a poorly judged difficulty curve; two things that King Oddball has down pat with some cleverly constructed bite-sized stages and a gentle difficulty gradient which deftly matches improving player skill with challenges to match.
It’s classic physics destruction based stuff then, but while it sticks so closely to the formula which endeared Rovio and its flock of birds to the world, King Oddball brings with it a number of notable tweaks and features which set it apart from its bird-slinging homage.
Take the number of attacks afforded to the player for example. Beginning with the standard trio of projectiles, it is wholly possible to replenish them by putting the moon-like monarch in their path, his troublingly long tongue ensnaring any rocks which enter his orbit for immediate re-use. Of course, doing this by accident and doing this deliberately is often the difference between failure and success; especially on the later levels where each and every rock in your arsenal counts.
Elsewhere, King Oddball keeps attention spans healthy with the inclusion of a number of additional modes within its campaign. On one hand, there is the Hall of Diamonds mode whereby – of your three rocks – one is a diamond which you mustn’t fire (unless you’re good enough to fire and retrieve it) in order to proceed. Whereas the appropriately titled ‘Boom Challenge’, has players employing just two grenades to clear each stage with an emphasis on the blast radius and newly found collateral damage possibilities of these bouncing green hurt lockers.
If that wasn’t enough to keep players glued, developer 10 Tons have also fully integrated trophy support into the title, with a great many challenges being incentive-driven by the promise of shiny new PlayStation trophies to add to your burgeoning collection.
Another feather in King Oddball’s cap is just how easy the game to play is from a control input standpoint. The game is quite literally driven by a single-button press and as such, lends itself brilliantly to not only one-handed play but also Remote Play through the PlayStation Vita handheld; something which is compounded by the easily consumed tiny nature of its scenarios in addition.
Where King Oddball stumbles, is that while it brings its own subtleties and nuances to the physics puzzler genre, it still can’t help but feel too similar to the game which inspired it. As a result despite its accessibility, King Oddball shares the same lack of variety and simplistic visuals of its homage, effectively restricting the game’s charms to those who liked or disliked Rovio’s bird tossing franchise in the first place.
Ultimately, King Oddball doesn’t represent a significant evolution of the Angry Birds formula, a fact which will do little to convert loathers of physics puzzlers, but peer beyond its off-kilter presentation and similarities to Rovio’s opus and underneath lays a game which makes enough tweaks to the formula to keep players engaged for a good long while.