Sunday, December 03, 2006

FizzBall Review

FizzBall, developed and published by Grubby Games.
The Good: Unique level design, innovative mechanics, kid friendly, lots of levels, exceptional graphics for the genre
The Not So Good: Not challenging at all due to slow initial ball speed, all 180 levels are essentially the same
What say you? As far as Breakout clones go, it’s innovative but way too easy: 6/8

One of the easiest games to clone is Breakout: lay down some bricks, put in a ball and a paddle, and you are ready to go. Since the original games were published way back in the Dark Ages, new versions of the game must add something distinctive to the formula in order to stand out against the crowd. Grubby Games brings Professor Fizzwizzle to the Breakout realm; he is charged with collecting animals using a giant bubble, reminiscent of the one used on The Prisoner. Is FizzBall a number, or a free man (that was a Prisoner reference, by the way)?

FizzBall consists of entirely 2-D graphics, but they are very good 2-D graphics, especially for this kind of game. The attention to detail is outstanding: the level of damage on certain objects is clearly visible, the animals all look disturbingly cute, and the game as a whole has a great cartoon-like feel. The trees even sway in the breeze when the fans are used during the game. Most puzzle games are moving into the realm of 3-D, but most of the time they don’t look any better than their 2-D counterparts. I would much rather have great looking 2-D graphics than muddled and ugly 3-D graphics; I don’t particularly need a sheep to be rendered in 3-D for the game to be enjoyable. The only drawback is that objects sometimes hide behind large trees (especially small animals), but this is possible part of the gameplay, and the game indicates the few remaining animals on the map if you’re stuck. FizzBall is one of the best looking puzzle games available, and it does it all in glorious 2-D. The great theme also extends into the sound department: the background music fits the style of the game very well, and it rarely becomes repetitive or annoying. The animal sounds are just varied enough to avoid repetition as well. FizzBall delivers fantastic quality in sound and graphics without being a system hog; how many games can say that these days?

FizzBall is a classic Breakout-style game with some interesting twists. Instead of breaking blocks, you are rescuing animals by collecting them in your bubble. Taking a nod from Katamari Damacy, you can only collect small fruits and nuts in the beginning; you have to “fill up” your bubble in order to save increasingly larger animals. The game features 180 different levels, but all of the levels are fundamentally the same: hit trees to collect nuts, break down fences and barrels, collect small animals, collect big animals. The game does eventually throw some variety at you in the form of enemy aliens, but those encounters are few and far between. The main campaign contains bonus levels, where you are either destroying or avoiding objects in a set time period, as well as optional side quests to make the game seem a little less linear and monotonous. There is a kids’ mode available: this includes quizzes between each level and a permanent barrier so that you can’t ever die. All of the animals you collect are placed in the animal sanctuary, which you can view during the game. Coins collected in the game are used to feed the animals, even when you aren't playing; this is a lovely but ultimately pointless addition to the game.

Most of the time you’ll be using your paddle to bounce the ball back, but you also have limited access to “super fans” to blow your bubble, useful if you are on the other side of the map. FizzBall also includes the standard assortment of power-ups, adjusting the bubble speed and size, grabbing the bubble, shooting crates, and giving score bonuses. It’s not quite the assortment seen in other games, but the power-ups are still fairly interesting. FizzBall does have some interesting level design: instead of being simple renditions of common objects, most of the levels have a farm feel, complete with fences and barrels. It’s certainly different and the level design goes a long way in differentiating FizzBall from all of the other Breakout clones. In addition, the animals commonly move around the map, and can also fly and hide up in trees (you have to hit the tree in order to get them on the ground again). This makes the gameplay a bit more interesting than a static set of blocks. Unfortunately, FizzBall is too easy. Since the bubble moves very slowly (even when using the “move faster” power-up), the only real difficulty results from placing a lot of objects close to the bottom. The game does adjust to your skill level: the ball tends to move faster the better you do. However, there are no out-of-control moments in the game, where multiple things are happening at once. You always feel able to manage the action of FizzBall, and this makes the game boring after you get the hand of it. It’s almost a chore to slog through all of the game’s levels, as each successive level doesn’t really offer anything new or different to the game, other than a slightly different arrangement of barrels. This is quite sad, since the easy difficulty makes an otherwise quite entertaining game too simple.

Despite all of the good things FizzBall has going for it, the slow bubble speed makes the game too easy to hold your attention for very long. The graphics and sound are high-quality, the game has inventive mechanics, and the overall theme is wonderful. The 180 levels seems like good value, but most of the challenges just run together after a while. I would be nice if the developers added a more advanced difficulty level with a faster ball speed (or the ability to set the ball speed yourself and scaling the score accordingly), because this is really the only tweak I can see holding this game back from being a completely recommendable title. I would imagine that children would enjoy the relaxed pace of the game, but the king of Breakout clones is still BreakQuest. FizzBall is a good Breakout-style game, but the easy difficulty prevents it from being one of the best.