Developer - 10tons Ltd.
Publisher - 10tons Ltd.
Platform - Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch [version tested], PS4, PS3, PSVita, Steam, Windows, Xbox
Price - £Variable
Genre - Physics-Based Puzzler
Disclaimer: the code for this game was obtained for free, from a source that had obtained it for free from the developer.
Every so often a game comes along that defines or illuminates a genre. For the sake of fairness we've said King Oddball is a 'physics-based puzzler' but it would be more accurate to call it an Angry Birds-alike. The titular King positions himself at the top of every screen and picks up one of his stash of three rocks with his tongue (!). He then starts swinging it in an arc beneath him, like a pebble-y pendulum. A button press fires the rock at members of the army that are trying to stop him taking over the planet. Do away with them all and it's on to the next level.
It's a very simple game, on the surface. There is only one kind of rock to throw, so variety comes from the different enemies that you must defeat. You'll run up against tanks, helicopters and soldiers, all of which wait politely until you smash them to smithereens. This simplicity is refreshing - the game is played out on a single screen and the aesthetics are bold and clear. The backgrounds are rendered with a kind of blur, like TV static, which is oddly appealing. Victory screens have a kind of rating depending on how well you did: my favourite phrase was 'Rather nice'. Not many games talk to the player like that.
The world map is divided into nine sections, like a Sudoku grid. Each section has sixteen squares. Beating a level means taking over one of the squares and opening up all the levels adjacent to it (unless they were open already). It's a nice system because if you can't figure out how to beat a level, you can usually choose another and come back to it. All sixteen squares must be taken over before you can progress to the next set, though. That means you could find yourself with one level left before you can get onto the next section... and you can't do it.
That leads neatly onto my big problem with these kinds of games. You can aim carefully at your foes, right enough, but occasionally a series of unpredictable bounces and ricochets can see you through. Some levels then become waiting games: refining your strategy could see you win the day, or maybe a good old-fashioned dose of luck will instead. This means the game's difficulty curve will be unique to you. On more than one occasion I took ten or twenty minutes to beat one level, whilst the very next one fell in one go. Let's just say that you will become well-acquainted with the minus button, which is the game's quick restart.
That flaw is just a part of the genre, though. It's a shame, because we think King Oddball is a great little game with bags of personality and a few surprises. There's a lot of content squirrelled away, including bonus levels that up the ante considerably and a list of offbeat achievements to aim for. Good thing, too, because the main game can be beaten in about three hours. The music also gets repetitive quite fast, as good as it initially sounds. There are no new tunes unlocked by getting to different areas, which feels like an opportunity lost. The sound effects are also functional.
If it sounds like the review has been about a mobile phone game ported to the Switch, that's because it is, really. You can even play the entire thing on the Switch's often overlooked touch screen. That does not mean that King Oddball should be dismissed, though - it's a fine little thing. The best of it is that at a mere £4, it's one of the cheapest games you can find on the Switch eShop right now. It's proof that 'cheap' doesn't always mean 'nasty' - though King Oddball himself does look a bit mean.
Final Verdict: It's a shame that Angry Birds came first, meaning that we have to describe King Oddball as an Angry Birds-like game. We'd love to be able to call Angry Birds a King Oddball-like game instead, as there's so much more to love here. Just be prepared to roll your sleeves up and accept that sometimes beating a level will be more luck than judgement.