Define good. Ending worlds is good, right?
We can’t always find justification for a villain’s actions. As the consistently astute Alfred tells us in The Dark Knight, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” And some, like King Oddball, want to do so while wearing the moon as a helmet.
King Oddball is 10Tons’s quirky new physics puzzler, in which you take charge of its title character: a giraffe-tongued, moon-helmeted, rock-spewing disembodied head which appears to be terrorizing Earth from some not-quite-next dimension. The King’s sole purpose in life is to destroy the world, as evidenced by the game’s extended title and one-line intro: “King Oddball ends the world.”
Ending the world requires destroying the armed forces that are leading the anti-Oddball resistance. Each level pits the King against a new assortment of tanks, helicopters, and soldiers which must be crushed for the sake of global annihilation. Floating above his opposition, the King rotates his head (entire self) 180 degrees in a metered pace. With his gargantuan purple tongue, he automatically grabs one of the three giant rocks that are available at the start of each level, and swings it along with him. When you tap the screen, King Oddball releases the rock and it goes flying according to the tongue’s trajectory—hopefully into a tank. This bizarre method of attack is highly effective against the military, as a single hit will always blow up an unshielded enemy.
Even though you start each level with only three of these ultra-destructive rocks, you can earn more. Blowing up more than one enemy with a single rock earns you a multiplier, and a multiplier of 3x gives you an extra, golden rock (6x would give you two, 9x three, etc.). You can also earn additional ammo by hitting Oddball in the head (entire self) with a ricocheted rock.
This latter trick seems nigh impossible when rocks are flying outward from your tongue, but therein lies the beauty of King Oddball‘s gameplay: the physics engine is so fine-tuned that players can—with experience—nearly perfect the art of bouncing rocks off of enemy units and back into Oddball, or into other units for multipliers. The momentum from Oddball’s tongue, coupled with the consistent bouncing points on explosive tanks and helicopters (rocks don’t bounce off soldiers), creates a nearly perfect physics environment which rewards players for learning its nuances, rather than firing randomly.
Once you’ve mastered these skills, King Oddball does skew towards the easier side of difficult. Its level progression, which allows you to play any new stage you’ve opened on its grid-like map, results in an erratic level of challenge and no real “boss stages.” And since there is no scoring system, outside of achievements and the twelve-level “One Rock Challenge,” there is little incentive to complete stages in any ambitious fashion. In fact, once a level is completed—”Epic Win!”—it is claimed for the King and cannot be replayed.
And yet, this simplicity is fitting in the King Oddball world. The entire game exudes an air of mystery, an almost “no need to explain ourselves”-ness. There is no true menu screen, no level-specific scores, no “like us on Facebook!” buttons. Bonus areas and options, like overall statistics, appear in the map itself once you reach certain points, but are inaccessible beforehand. The “Odd Phone,” which lets you talk to the King directly, provides little other answers except “World needs ending,” “Like ball but curiously odd,” and occasionally some commentary on Alien vs Predator. It’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t constantly remind you this is a game and boy are we having fun beyond the sheer fact that yes, I am having fun.
Of course, I’m curious why a giant floating head is hell-bent on destroying the world. Why is his tongue so long? What is he king of? Where did he get a rotary phone in this day and age? Why are there moustaches hidden all over? Why don’t the tanks and soldiers ever shoot at him? Is his head made of stone, the moon, or “helmetium,” like he claims?
Not learning the answers to these questions, or any others, doesn’t really matter. King Oddball is a nearly perfect gameplay experience, with just the right level of strange to remain memorable. I would call it the new Angry Birds, but it’s more than that: it’s the new King Oddball.