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    When you hear a name like “Madballs in Babo: Invasion” (or MiBI for short), you either look slightly scared and back away slowly, or you stop and look puzzled for a moment, pondering what on Earth it might mean.

    As it turns out this Xbox Live Arcade title, due out mid July, is all about frantic, fast-paced fire-fights between…well…balls. It’s not quite as mad as you might think (though, not to take anything away from it, it is pretty weird), a self-dubbed a ‘casually hardcore’ shooter has the player control gun-toting balls around a map, dispatching enemies and puzzles along the way.

    Based on the 80s ‘madballs’ toy craze, on the face of it the game is a heroes and villains story, with the B*D*I (Babolon Defence Initiative) on one side and the Scorched Militia on the other. Each madball has different stats to encourage some variety in the game, which in turn split them into five different classes: Assault, Heavy, Support, Flyer and Runner.

    If you’re beginning to get over-whelmed then don’t worry, the game lays things out in opposites in an attempt to keep it simple. Each weapon has two types, either cold and heat or energy and impact, and enemies have resistances and weaknesses depending on what they are made of and how they attack in a vaguely Pokemon-eque way, except about 200 times cooler.

    Madballs in Babo Invasion - Screenshot

    Scott Simpson, President and CEO at Playbrains, the minds behind the wacky shooter, explained: “We kept it simple by pairing the damage types in opposites. Most characters are resistant to one type of damage (like heat) and are vulnerable to its opposite type (like cold). If you’re up against a character resistant to heat and you have a weapon that does heat damage (which is less effective on that character), don’t despair because with one click you can start plugging away in cold mode and do the maximum amount of damage you can do to that character.”

    Single player consists of a campaign of around four hours, spanning 10 levels per faction. You begin with the Assault character, the all-rounder, and steadily unlock more weapons and characters through the stages, meaning there’s plenty of replay value.

    Where the ‘hardcore’ element comes in is the secrets. Simpson added: “I really like finding a secret in the campaign I haven’t found before. There are 50 of ’em to find in the game (most levels have 5 or 6) and I think I’ve only found 47 of them so far. Some are easy to find, some are easy to see but tricky to get to, and some I just can’t find at all.”

    Since they can often only be found with certain characters, completionists will be toiling around for hours just to nab the achievement for finding them all.

    The magic really comes through in the multiplayer, where the simplistic gaming mantra is exploited to its full potential as you dispatch your enemies (and friends) in various entertaining ways. The game has many of the standard modes players are used to, such as deathmatch or capture the flag, and a few interesting twists of it’s own such as the ability to play with your avatar’s head as your character, instantly making you more worried about getting killed and exploding in a shower of confetti (literally).

    A particularly interesting mode is the games namesake: Invasion, which sees you create your side of the map before a pitched battle against an enemy team to try to destroy their base’s shield and then the base itself.

    The map creation is simple. The game dishes out assorted tiles for you to place on the board, highlighting points of interest so you can attempt to protect them with the scenery, create a sniper alley to help defence or any wacky plan you can come up with though.

    Madballs in Babo Invasion - Screenshot

    This could quickly lead to a stalemate if you spent too much time strategising, and with that in mind the Playbrains team have limited the time you have to create the map to only 15 seconds per tile, before your team votes on the best location for your base.

    Matches can quickly become frantic, with even the special abilities, grenades and mortars not being enough to keep you alive longer than a minute, meaning the anticipation is constantly high. This isn’t a game for lurking in the shadows, this is a game for the kind of person who likes to ride in all guns blazing, only to be turned into greenish goo.

    Character’s individual strengths and weaknesses come into play as well, since you quickly feel the difference in style between the slow Heavy characters compared to the lightning-fast Runners.

    Simpson said: “each of these characters feels the same rolling around, but how they operate and play feels very different. The abilities are asymmetric between classes, so even characters who are the same class play differently.

    For example, Robo is the B*D*I Heavy class and his abilities allow him to disarm opponents. Magmor, his counterpart on the Scorched side has a Colossus ability which allows him to grow into a giant ball of molten rock and roll over hapless victims. It’s awesome. We even have an achievement for crushing 100 people with it.”

    The game’s predecessor, Babo Violent 2, was a downloadable game on PC released in 2006 and this latest incarnation retains much of the same feel, though without the excess of blood which you would expect from a game with ‘violent’ in the title.

    MiBI opts for a ‘shoulder-cam’ view as default, but still offers an easy toggle on the D-pad to the top down birds-eye view for experienced players. Simpson said: “We originally had an isometric view as well, but after playtesting, it wasn’t radically different from the shoulder-cam view and we preferred having two views that you could change easily instead of having to remember the order of the views and cycle through multiple options until you get the one you wanted.”

    With a small first-time development team the game pulls many ideas from classic and current games, so playing you’ll vaguely recognise aspects from games, like similarities to ranking system from Call of Duty or a almost pinball section of the main campaign that alludes to Sonic 2.

    The game is visually very impressive, and if players aren’t put off by the game’s bizarre subject or its simplicity then they will be rewarded when it’s released for downloa later in July with a game which delivers plenty of fun experiences. Whether you’ve been gaming for 20 years or think Halo 1 is ‘old-school’ this is guaranteed to give you some laughs. Undoubtedly one to watch.

    James Parry

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