Rolling ball games are big on iPhone. Back in ’08 Sega’s Super Monkey Ball was one of the first titles to truly grab gamers’ attention on the then fledgling platform, showcasing how the accelerometer could provide a more than adequate control method in lieu of a d-pad or physical keys. Since then we’ve been treated to any number of games which involve guiding cylindrical objects through perilous environments by tilting our devices. Well another’s just dropped; it goes by the name Mad’O’Ball 3D, and it might just be the best yet.
While Mad’O’Ball doesn’t set out to reinvent the tilt powered wheel, what it does do is refine the formula, and then polish the tried and tested gameplay mechanic within an inch of its life. The result is a dizzying blend of frantic dashes through marble-runs suspended miles above terra firma, impressively true to life physics and a “aw, just one more go” quality that’s more addictive than caffeine, and more likely to get your heart pounding too.
The aim of the game is, of course, getting your ball from A to B without falling off the edges of the rollercoaster style courses. This is easier said than done though, as levels are fiendishly designed and require finding the right balance between building up speed as you hurtle down slopes and maintaining control of your orb when you hit a series of bends or a narrow section of track.
Oh, and did I mention the precision timed leaps across gaping ravines? Or the fact you’re racing against the clock? Tricky doesn’t quite cover it, but practice, as they say, makes perfect. Also as you progress through levels your clever little ball alerts you to impending danger by way of speech bubbles (an exclamation mark before a steep drop or directional arrows to indicate a sharp turn ahead etc), while well placed checkpoints mean should you plummet to your doom at least you don’t have to restart from scratch every time.
Even with these concessions to a pick-up-and-play style, difficulty levels do ramp up quite quickly and some of the later stages could frustrate the more casual gamer. At times, as the title implies, Mad ‘O’ Ball is indeed maddening; tracks throwing a rapid-fire combination of jumps, climbs, drops, sharp turns and other obstacles your way, meaning finding that elusive, sweet spot between speed and control can be tough. Stick it out though and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most thrilling, up in the air, arcade gaming this side of Jet Car Stunts.
As you roll through the game’s globe-spanning 32 races, you also get to take in some truly breathtaking scenery – it continues to amaze iFanzine what some devs are capable of with Unity – ranging from snow-capped mountains to a bustling cityscape. There’s a wonderful sense of depth to these 3D worlds which results in a stomach-churning, vertigo-inducing effect as you careen around the topsy-turvy tracks, whilst the camera ducks and dives to capture the coolest angle on the action.
Global leader boards, OpenFeint achievements, Facebook and Twitter integration, bonus race modes and a selection of toe-tapping tunes (I still can’t get the theme song out of my head!) round off the Mad’O’Ball package perfectly. Okay, so the steep difficulty levels might not be for everyone, but if you’re up for a challenge, this is a rollicking ride well worth the $3.99 price of admission.
iFanzine Verdict: Pitch-perfect physics, pretty scenery and a dizzying sense of speed and vertigo make Mad ‘O’ Ball a terrifically enjoyable roll ’em up; once you’ve got the hang of the tentative tilting mechanic there’s hours and hours of fun to had.
iPhone apps at AppStoreHQ