To say that the videogame market is saturated with physics-based puzzlers would be akin to saying that the Call of Duty series has only been mildly successful. In other words, it would be a vast and gaping understatement. To this end, indie effort King Oddball attempts to set itself apart from the competition by indulging in some good old fashioned weirdness. But does its offbeat style create a right royal experience, or is the whole thing just too odd?
The titular King wants but one thing: to destroy the entire world. It’s a simple goal, to be sure, but one that proves incredibly difficult for his highness to accomplish. You see, our hero is actually just a disembodied head equipped only with an extremely elongated, and slightly disturbing, purple tongue. This may leave you wondering how exactly he proposes to carry out his malicious mission, but the answer is really quite simple: the shrewd monarch uses the previously mentioned prehensile protuberance to grab a hold of large boulders and promptly haul them at anything that lies in his path.
While this outlandish premise may suggest otherwise, the title's gameplay is really not that mind blowing: the King swings his head back and forth and you simply control when he lets go of the rocks. In this manner, you'll throw a limited number of projectiles in an attempt to wipe out an increasingly tricky set of enemies. Various environmental hazards, including steel girders and exploding boxes, also impede your destructive desires. If you manage to either destroy three enemies with one boulder, or have it make contact with the King himself, you’ll gain one extra ammo. The key to success, then, is learning how your weapon reacts to its targets, and exploiting this knowledge to rack up a large arsenal of back-up armaments.
Interestingly, the puzzler opts for a rather neat little gimmick when it comes to progression. You’ll proceed through the world on a grid that resembles a battlefield, clearing out each small section of the map before you proceed to another. This means that you’ve always got a couple of levels to choose from, and will rarely get stuck for too long.
Ultimately, the title's gameplay is functional and relatively addictive, but its lack of variety or intrigue means that it's unlikely to hold your attention for long spans of time. You're also treated to a few extra sets of challenges, including one that turns your boulders into grenades, and another that has you complete levels using only one projectile. While these trials provide a much needed change of pace, they mostly serve to further demonstrate this lack of diversity.
Before we go any further, though, it behoves us to address the feathered and furious elephant in the room, as it's regrettably impossible to discuss physics-based puzzlers without at least mentioning Rovio's incredibly popular Angry Birds franchise. Luckily, 10tons' take on the ubiquitous genre sets itself apart from the iOS behemoth in a number of meaningful ways. For one thing, it’s a much more focussed affair; stages are both compact and cleverly designed in order to test your propensity for just one or two perplexing pitfalls.
What’s more, the title places a much larger emphasis on momentum and combos than its plumed peer. Oh, and it's worth repeating that this puzzler’s central premise concerns a giant disembodied head that throws rocks with its terrifyingly long tongue. If that's not reason enough to dismiss any unfavourable avian comparisons, we're not sure what is.
This charming brand of silliness pervades the game’s visuals and music, too. Bold black borders outline a colourful art style, while a soundtrack replete with brazen militaristic flair only emphasises the ridiculous nature of what’s unfolding before you. As with the gameplay, there isn’t a great deal of variety here, with only a handful of stage styles, and a single solitary song that repeats during ordinary play. It's all of a very high quality, but a bit more diversity would have been nice.
King Oddball is an incredibly competent puzzler. While it's certainly not going to blow your mind, it will provide you with a couple of hours of rock solid, if slightly uninteresting, physics-based gameplay. Comparisons to its high-flying contemporary are inevitable, but a gleefully absurd premise combined with equally bizarre presentation go a long way in differentiating it from the competition. Hail to the king, baby.