Physics-based skill games have always been an easy sell on mobile devices. They provide single screen challenges that ask players to take out whatever obstacles are in front of them. As far as standards go, Angry Birds has set any kind that could be imagined. If a mobile title involves chucking one object at another with a splash of environmental damage involved, visions of pigs and multicolored birds are likely to come to mind. Since it is a physics game, King Oddball will likely draw comparisons to Rovio’s empire. But does it manage to set itself apart from the pack and provide a fresh and fun challenge?
King Oddball is a game about skill. It’s a game where players control a floating rock king in the sky who launches rocks at enemies with his grotesquely large tongue. Such a strange premise is likely to ensnare any gamer who is jaded by the parade of cute animals and candy other titles offer. Truth be told, the oddness doesn’t really continue past the titular king.
Levels start with the King descending from on high and being greeted by tanks, foot soldiers, helicopters or a combination of the three. The King will grab a rock with his tongue, swinging it like a pendulum, and a tap on the Vita‘s screen will unleash the rock on the stationary targets. A direct hit with the rock usually means instant destruction for anything it hits, so the crux of the game becomes learning when to time rocks so that they hit as many targets as possible. Players only start out with three rocks but destroying multiple foes with one rock or having a rock bounce back in the King’s face grants an additional golden rock – which acts the same as a normal one.
Because this is a game focused on physics, even the slightest difference in when a rock is released can result in wildly different throws. A rock could completely miss the mark with half a second’s delay, hit one tank and lose momentum, or completely destroy everything in the level. Learning the most appropriate releases takes good guesswork and timing for players who want to be as accurate as possible. Those who just want to clear levels won’t face severe rock management issues until later levels.
The game’s physics are done quite well from a practical standpoint; at times they are ruthless in their accuracy. Just because a rock is a few pixels from a target doesn’t mean it will connect on a “close enough” basis. The rocks aren’t perfect circles so they don’t magically roll everywhere and will instead just stop. It will frustrate those who want to excel with fewer rocks but it also grounds the game in fairness.
Though King Oddball is packed with over a hundred levels, the gameplay begins to lose a sense of variety after the first few dozen. Part of this is a result of the focus on making targets explode. During the first few levels, it’s easy enough to use one single rock to take out every target. Eventually the shots get so tricky that the game comes to a halt as players try to figure out how to get by with just three rocks. No new enemy types are introduced but enemies are given a shield that gives them an extra hit point.
In King Oddball, the player always knows what is coming to them. Level after level will just be the same process of throwing well-timed rocks at stationary targets. Even the balls that bounce rocks and targets around feel unnecessary. What saves the gameplay and adds much needed variety are the challenge levels. A group of levels give players only one rock, making accuracy and golden rocks a must. Grenade levels replace the rock with a grenade that does some explosion damage. Diamond levels simply ask the player to use more than the required number of rocks.
Still, outside of a quick gimmick, these challenges don’t expand the concept very far past the point of tapping on the screen to destroy targets. The concept works for mobile devices and even has its place on the Vita, but it still doesn’t mean the variety has to be completely lacking.
Graphics & Sound
There are a number of visual quirks that 10tons uses in King Oddball to splash uniqueness into the title. The King himself is a standout mascot and has the potential to attract players on how different he is. Environment backgrounds are static but well drawn and add color to levels. As mentioned, enemy types are limited and are all colored with the same dark green tone. It’s a shame that a game with such a unique character like the King has limited his palette of foes to generic military objects.
For some reason, the game features a film grain that produces a lot of visual static noise. It dulls the brightness of the Vita’s screen and feels unnecessary since it can be disabled from the menu.
King Oddball’s soundtrack is probably one of the few in a game that features an accordion. It’s a noticeable detail on a small list of tunes that accompany levels. The brevity of levels doesn’t ask much from a music standpoint, so it should come as no surprise that there isn’t much to listen to. Basic sound effects such as explosions punctuate player activity and that’s it.
As a game born on mobile devices, King Oddball works because its levels are quick and to the point. A few taps can whittle away some time. There is enough challenge and skill involved that it can hold the attention of a relatively experienced gamer. It makes sense that the game was brought to Vita as it fits with some of the other casual experiences on Sony’s handheld.
Despite a solid gameplay core, the physics-based challenges aren’t supplemented by variety. A cheaper price tag will entice players who want something quick to occupy their time. But even the additional challenge modes won’t add too much. If 10tons wishes to mine King Oddball for more games, they would do well to explore bigger levels and ask players to do more than just blow up generic enemies using a tongue and a rock.