|It was as if Odama knew just what it had to do to get me to buy it. I'm a wild and crazy new spin on pinball video games! it cried, knowing I still search for the perfect video pinball game. And then it cried also I'm a quirky game with mass destruction and much wackiness! And there was no way I could not buy it.
Cruel, cruel game. If Yoot Saito, who appears to have removed his name from the game's title somewhere near the end of development, was here right now, I'd be tempted to kick him in the nuts, in an abstract sort of way.
As a pinball game, Odama is a travesty. The "tables," or medieval Japanese battlefields, offer hardly anything in the way of really fun or challenging ramps, targets game modes, etc. They have a bunch of targets you can smash over and over again with your giant pinball, but that gets old fast. There are "objectives" you have to hit, but these are usually toggles, so while you may hit the switch to close a river gate and let your men over once, if you hit it again (and you will, because with little to stop it, the ball mashes all over the field), it will toggle back the other way, and you've just gone backwards. Congratulations.
So I don't know, maybe they realized that they didn't really know jack about pinball, and had better throw in some other gimmicks to disguise the fact. We've got the aforesaid objectives, that get thicker and thicker, it seems, as you go through the tables. So by stage 3, to get your men to carry the big bell to the gate at the top of the field, winning the stage, you have to have them find, transport, and use two keys, a giant pulley, two giant ladders, and maybe something else I'm forgetting. Every time any development on one of these fronts occurs, the game stops, the camera swoops in, and you have to click past some dialog that you've probably seen before, telling you what just happened.
The worst part, though, comes in directing the troops. The GameCube controller doesn't have enough buttons, Yoot decided, to provide adequate control options for troops while simultaneously playing a mediocre brand of pinball, so let's make players shout into a microphone to control their troops. Won't that be fun? I thought surely there would be some kind of button control option for those who don't want to be shouting into a mic the whole time, but nope, it's shout or nothin'.
Aside from going hoarse, or freaking out your neighbors, the worst thing about the voice commands is that they're not really intuitive, and start getting more and more obscure as the tables go along. I can see starting with "March Right" and "March Left," I suppose, but then you get into "Rally" and "Press Forward," which is pushing things a bit, and then it goes on to stuff like "Close the gate" and another one that's the opposite of that one that I can't really remember... "Flood the river," or something. Anyway, the point is that having to remember all these and shout them out while also trying to watch what your troops are doing AND keep your stupid giant pinball in play is just not fun at all.
So yeah, I actually went kind of hoarse shouting at my men, even though I only got to stage 3. Thing is, the men don't...really do what you ask a lot of the time. There's some kind of "morale" factor that I don't understand and can't be bothered to, but basically late in a stage, when you need them to push just that little bit farther to get the damn bell through the damn gate, you'll see them cry out (in chat bubbles) to give the "Press forward" command, and when you do, they all start bitching and calling you crazy, and you fail the stage because your men who have to press forward simply won't do it. This is so not cool.
So that's the gameplay. The game doesn't help itself in other areas, either. The graphics are really ugly, and the game likes to drive this point home with frequent, unavoidable extreme closeups on the blurry landscape and horrid stick-figure warriors. The sounds are god-awful, and by halfway through the first, short, battle, you will already be sick to death of the horrible, loud, and incessant bird cry sounds that it seems Vivarium decided were the essence of medieval Japanese battlefields. They also didn't bother localizing any of the large amount of speech in the game for the American release, which I don't mind per se, but which is just a sign of the slipshod nature of what was supposed to be a high-profile release. The menus are dreadful-looking, and the save file management truly baffling. Only one person can save their progress through the game at any time, it seems, and if you go back to fight an earlier battle, which you can do easily, it actually takes away your access to any battles farther along once you've fought through that battle again.
And it feels so dumb to play this on a nice cordless Wavebird, 'cause the microphone you clip on the top of the controller has a long cord that has to plug into the second memory card slot. Guh.
|Download added: 01_map.gif (126439 bytes)
"The campaign map is a good illustration of the ugly presentation at work."
Forgot to mention: there is a nasty time limit on all the stages, or at least those I saw. The battle is supposed to end by "sunset," and this means that there's a day/night cycle (wow! :p), and as the battle/day wears on, it gets darker and darker, so in the final crucial moments of the battle, it's so dim that you can't tell your troops apart from the enemy troops, and you can barely see the damn ball.
Also, because your men are usually right in the central line of fire, you can't really shoot the ball straight up the table (unless you manage to crack it into the bell, in which case it sends out a shockwave that floors all the other troops--but if you miss, you crush half your force). So generally, and also because you can't always take the time to aim due to all the micro-managing you have to do, the ball is just caroming around the table somewhere, smashing random things, and probably re-toggling stuff you'd worked hard to get set up a certain way.
|Download added: 05_crush.gif (123866 bytes)
"They should have just stuck with crushing dudes, like this."
Hah, and there's a long, boring story intro that only plays ONCE, ever, unless, I guess, you delete your save file--because if you go pick "New Game" again, it still doesn't play the intro over. Sheesh.