Mad Balls: “Adorable Fanged Orifices”

By Alec Meer on September 28th, 2009 at 11:22 pm.

My eye. Mine.

Surprise, shock, delight and queasy nostalgia hit me all at once when I loaded up Steam a couple of days back and was greeted with an ad for Mad Balls In Babo:Invasion. Wait. Mad Balls? That’s a name I haven’t heard in a good 20 years. What trickery is this? None at all, it transpires – just an apparently rather delightful electric videogame starring a retro toy…

I hadn’t realised Mad Balls were back. They were one of my many fleeting toy-obsessions in the early/mid 1980s: nothing more than really ugly balls. They disturbed mothers and you could throw them at stuff – it’s hard to think of a more perfect boy’s toy, really. My own time with them came to strange close while the fad was in full swing. I was sickly with some youthful disease (it might have been chicken pox, now I think of it. THE POX OF THE CHICKENS), and bedridden for days. All I wanted to take my mind off how crappy I felt was my beloved Mad Ball – Oculus Orbus, the one that looked like a giant, vein-covered eyeball. Like this, in fact:

My mum kindly brought it over, and placed it in my thin, shivering, outstretched hand. I took one look at it and threw up.

I can remember repeatedly reaching for Oculus over the next few days, hoping it was just a strange and messy coincidence, but something about its rubbery feel and synthetic smell made me feel instantly nauseous. I still have no idea what was going on there. Eventually, I could pick Oculus up without disaster, but by that point I was done with Mad Balls. No kid wants a toy that makes him projectile vomit. Actually, maybe some do. But I didn’t.

When I loaded up the Mad Balls In Babo:Invasion demo, guess which character pops up first, and then proceeds to be the star of the show? Yep, Oculus Orbus himself. (Whose recently re-designed and re-released toy looks like this. Ew.) Some broken little switch at the back of my brain instantly sent a signal that I should turn away from the screen, for fear of vomit.

No nausea came, mercifully. I peered back at the game, trepidatiously. I reached cautiously for WASD and began slowly steering this new Oculus through Babo:Invasion’s pretty, angular tutorial map. Hallelujah! I’m cured! Though I did briefly feel a different kind of nauseousness when thinking about how unhygienic and dangerous the idea of rolling an exposed eyeball’s veins and nerves all over a rocky floor was. Best not to apply any logic to Mad Balls, I suspect. But I’m probably going to have to go buy an Oculus from eBay now.

And you, if you’ve somehow laboured through this strange and pointless tale of a unhealthy British kid’s childhood, are going to read about Mad Balls In Babo: Invasion. It’s a strange but oddly familiar halfway house between Marble Madness and Smash TV – maze-based ball physics meets top-down carnage. The Mad Balls element is ridiculously laboured, layering on some crazy story about well-intentioned, space-travelling ball creatures fighting carnivorous alien ball creatures, but to its credit it’s absolutely up-front about its absurdity. It’s a remarkably well-written game, flippant and funny and characterful and, well, far better than I’d ever have expected from a £6 game based on an ugly ball toy from the 1980s.

The demo, which is all I’ve tried of it so far, only seems to be the half of it, as I heard word the deathmatch multiplayer is picking up quite a following. The two-and-a-bit level demo is singleplayer stuff only, but it gives a good and massively enticing sense of how the whole thing works. You’re this ball, right. And you’re in a sort of maze, right. And you have a honking great gun strapped to the side of you.

And that’s the wonder of it. I’d honestly never have believed that a videogame including guns would be a surprise, but this was. It’s a game about a giant eyeball with a gun strapped to the side of it. I really wasn’t expecting that. Really, the guns are what Mad Balls is about – there does seem to be some fairly straightforward ball-physics/rolling-related puzzling, but mostly it’s about messily clearing rooms filled with dozens of, as one in-game diary puts it, “adorable fanged orifices.” Turned out they weren’t so adorable, so you have to kill ‘em all.

There’s a vaguely Ikaruga-esque system to this, different enemies being susceptible to different weapons – for instance, the Shottie (as it’s cutely named) switches between Fire and Ice modes. If your enemy is a frosty blue hue, you’ll need to switch to Fire to take him out. There’s also some delirously destructive grenades and molotovs to play with. It’s really simple in practice, and feels really nice, really responsive, in that hard-to-define control feedback loop kinda way.

It’s simple, silly fun – a ball with a gun shooting ‘orrible orifices at high speed. Nothing at all to do with Mad Balls bar skinning the characters as such, but I presume that’s where the developers got hold of the cash necessary to make this as good-looking and polished as it is. Seems they’d already played with this concept with their freeware multiplayer game BaboViolent2 (still available), so I guess the recent Mad Balls re-release/remake was splendid timing. I’m not complaining – frankly, the fact one of its main characters is a scarred, oozing giant eyeball with cute facial expressions does add oddles of surreal charm.

I’m definitely going to pick up the full game at some point, as this degree of absurdity and accessibility in multiplayer is enormously appealing. For all I know it gets tedious after a couple of hours, but I doubt it – the demo really is strong stuff. Here demo here. Try not to throw up, won’t you?

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37 Comments »

  1. Dominic White says:

    It really is a remarkably great little game. Well worth the money. The co-op is fun with a buddy or two, and the ‘build your own side of the map’ multiplayer is downright clever.

    The whole Madballs lisence thing was only slapped on in the last couple of months of development, or so I gather. It was just Babo Violent 3 until they had that bit of marketing insanity hit them. Glad it did, though. It’s just the right kind of kitsch to help sell a game about violent balls.

    • Tei says:

      Thats exactly feelings (other than that construct multiplayer mode, that is unknom to me)

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    That Mad Balls malarkey is way before my time but the trailer made the game look like fun – I’ll definitely give the demo a shot.

  3. CMaster says:

    I found the demo kinda uninspiring. Reminded me of a PS1 game, really.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Oh christ not this again.

    • CMaster says:

      Again?

      Anyway, can you not see what I mean? Fixed camera angle, blocky, tunneled terrain, no jump ability, simple characters and enemies. Sure, it also looks a lot better than a 1996 game would, has sparkly particles and I hate to see what a game of that era would have produced trying to render balls. Still, from the demo at least I couldn’t see what it was that had everybody so excited about this.

      But then I own and love Hell Copter for my silly shooty action, so maybe I’m not a good judge.

  4. Niall Sheffield says:

    The deathmatch, is really quite deep, not only do you have the way that different balls are susceptible to different damage types, but the twelve or so different balls do different things and behave differently! Only complaint is lack of dedicated servers, and occasional lag infested hosts. Other than that, great stuff!

  5. Ansob. says:

    Unless I’m wrong, this is actually the sequel to a little multiplayer gem called BaboViolent 2, which I played a lot at LANs.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    “fanged orifices”? That sounds scarily like vagina dentata, and there most definitely isn’t anything “adorable” about that. Doesn’t sound like a suitable kids toy neither.

    Not heard of Mad Balls before (kid of the 90s), but playing as an eyeball with a gun strapped to his side does sound like quite good fun.

  7. mandrill says:

    I had Oculus Orbus! Didn’t make me spew though. You win.

  8. Dominic White says:

    Right now the biggest problem with the game is that there’s no dedicated server app. However, the devs say that one is in the works, so that particular problem should be rectified soon. Once that’s in place, it should be able to support a small community at the very least.

  9. Lafinass says:

    Saw this over the weekend, had to snag it. Was a great bit of fun, even played through the campaign a second time as the other faction. Going to have to give the deathmatch a bit of a go.

    And I totally had all of these when I was a kid.

  10. ACardboardRobot says:

    Yeah it’s the sequel to BaboViolent. Only found out there the other day that they were putting Mad Balls into it. BaboViolent was the pwn.

  11. MadTinkerer says:

    In addition to the tremendously fun gameplay and the overall goofy sillyness of the premise, there’s some great writing in there too.

    The characters take what’s going on incredibly seriously, and the plot of the single-player campaign wouldn’t seem out of place if it were re-written for non-spherical characters in a serious FPS. Furthermore, all of the characters and places have detailed back-stories that actually come up in the course of the campaign. The developers actually put effort into justifying the enemies, monsters, bosses, and puzzles. Plus, the catchphrases are great. “It’s all fun until someone loses an eye!”

    Also, the music is awesome. Even if Brutal Legend never makes it to the PC, we still have Madballs.

  12. Hypocee says:

    I got a huge Serious Sam vibe from the ’4-player coop’ seconds of the video, which was a great thing to feel having recently LANned Serious Sam 2 and found it disappointingly crap. The avatar ballification thing’s cute, too.

  13. JonFitt says:

    Mad Balls seemed so outre at the time, but children of today probably look at them as we might look on a Victorian child playing hoop and stick.

  14. invisiblejesus says:

    I’ve only done a couple minutes of deathmatch, but coop play is crazy fun when you can stay connected. Right now there’s problems with that, but with dedicated servers coming I’m hoping that won’t keep being a problem. And it’s listed in the Steam server browser filters now too, so presumably it’ll be using it when there are servers to play on.

    I really, really dig this game in a big way. :)

  15. postmanX3 says:

    The demo struck me as incredibly boring. One of the only demos I played where I just said, “I have absolutely no intention of ever playing this again.”

    It wasn’t BAD, per se, but it was so astoundingly bland, I just couldn’t care to play it.

    • Stuk says:

      This was my feeling as well. I got a little bit into the second level and thought… this just isn’t that much fun.

      It’s obviously well made and there’s nothing exactly wrong with it, but it didn’t do anything for me at all. Shame I couldn’t try the multiplayer, as I could see that being more interesting.

  16. GuiSim says:

    Deathmatch is where this game shines. 4v4 CTF can become incredibly deep and chaotic.

  17. massive man, solid gold suit says:

    Here in Amurrica in the 90s we had something called Blurp Balls, of which Spittooey Sooey was my personal favorite.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zf4xyJShJhI

    Incidentally, the ad’s narrator is posh enough to have been disturbed by Mad Balls themselves a few years earlier in his hometown.

    A Blurp Balls game would be great because they are already equipped with projectiles and would not need to be fitted with more destructive/less disgusting lasers.

  18. Saul says:

    My brother and I had a madball each, as I recall, and the usual mad plan to collect the whole set. Then I’m sure some other toy became more interesting. I too had a nostalgia attack, seeing this on Steam, so I got the demo.

    While I can see the potential, and it seems quite solid, it was just too bright, too shouty, too MAD if you will for my over-tired brain to handle.

  19. Dinger says:

    So, BaboViolent + Mad Balls + Ed McMillan = there are both good and bad yonic elements, and it turns out the vagina dentata is cute.

  20. pepper says:

    Glad to hear its finally out! I played Babo violent a lot.

  21. Melf_Himself says:

    There is no way you named your toy Oculus Orbus as a kid.

    • Vinraith says:

      It was printed on the box, because that was its name.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madballs

    • Melf_Himself says:

      Oh, I see. Point withdrawn :p

      Do let us know how the full version multiplayer turns out Alec. I tried the demo but there’s no multiplayer there, and I’m too cheap/lazy to buy the full version if it turns out there are not enough people playing to get a game in my obscure corner of the world (Australia).

    • Malagate says:

      Oh my, I thought it looked a bit familiar when I saw it on steam, reading the article has brought it all flooding back, and considering I was born in ’85 that’s not easy. I remember weirdly bright holidays in Wales whilst clutching a rubber ball with a mummies face on it…Dustbrain…waaaay better than a smelly eyeball…
      I was thinking that was the only one I had, but lo, I recalled a weird American Football with a shark’s face and an orange football with a big tooth mouth, and it turns out they were Super Madballs. Stop bringing my mind back to when I was 3!

  22. Jerricho says:

    I believe I had (and by extension, STIll have hidden away in a box in my parents’ attic) Horn Head, Lock Lips and Swine Sucker.

    When I saw the ad on STEAM I very nearly bought it on spec. I played the demo and felt bad that my achievements weren’t counting so I bought the full version an hour later. I think Magmor is my favourite at present. “Magmor WANTS!”. I haven’t returned to it in a few days, Dawn of War II multiplayer has been distracting me.

    http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1293/558999809_a757c43af8_o.jpg

  23. dan says:

    Man, I had Oculus Orbus too! Except Wikipedia reliably informs me I had the Head-Popping Madball version, which had a disgusting skinless body to go with it.

  24. pkt-zer0 says:

    A nice game, I found its madness quite delightful. The secret logs hidden all around the levels are pretty amazing, as are some the NPCs. However, I do think that the campaign is a bit repetitive, despite that they throw in a couple puzzles and non-linear parts, and that unlocking weapons for multiplayer isn’t a very good idea. None of that concerns the multiplayer, though, which looks to be quite interesting, with all the different classes and special abilities and non-standard game modes. Haven’t really sunk my teeth into the online part so far, waiting for the dedicated server support to arrive, but what I’ve played was fun. During one match, the opposing team went with 2-3 Magmors, so I switched to Oculus and proceeded to destroy them with the ice shotgun. So it’s kind of like TF2 in that way – except the Heavy is a ball of magma and the scout is a giant eyeball with a gun that shoots ice. Something like that.

  25. Clovis says:

    Awesome! Can we get a Garbage Pail Kids game now?!?

    I had Oculus as a kid too! We would try our best to throw it in a spiral like an American football. You know, so that the cacher has the iris pointing at him the entire time it’s in the air.

  26. Clovis says:

    Haha, I just noticed how weired that first image is. That cartoon Oculus at the top not only has an eyebrow, he has two of them! Weird. But how else would you make an disembodied eyeball look so worried?

  27. Wobblit says:

    The strong side to this game is definitively the multiplayer. I would stay away from the Deathmatch (Skirmish in Babo terms, it seems), the team modes is where the fun is. The skirmish mode (all against all) becomes too spammy, but the team modes (even Team Skirmish) are very fun to play.

    Having the choice of different classes with different health/speed values and two unique abilities each as well as your pick of weapons (short range, long range, hit scan, projectile) makes it quite the tactical game.

    And for the comment complaing there is no jumping, each faction has a Flyer class that has special abilities to jump or even glide through the air.

  28. Mort says:

    Tried this because the internet told me too. Sadly, seems to be a problem with controls, ball just moves down, wont move forward. Same problem evident in menu screens (Scrolling down constantly), no stuck keys, right controller selected, uninstalled. Fail. Next!