GC REVIEW: ODAMA

One of the most unique game experiences I've had in years, but that doesn't necessarily translate into "Rush out and buy it." by Vaughn Smith

April 12, 2006 - Odama, or as I call it "Odama Pin Ballin" which is admittedly a very weak in the knees pun, is definitely one of the stranger games to be released in North America. By comparison, it makes Namco's off the wall Katamari games look positively white bread normal. What is Odama? That would be telling....all right, I'll dish. Odama is a feudal Japan simulation pinball real time strategy action voice-actived microphone game. I know what you're thinking, "Do we really need another feudal Japan simulation pinball real time strategy action voice-actived microphone game?" Don't be too coy; I know some of you can't get enough of 'em.

Vivarium and designer Yoot Saito have done "quirky" relatively well in the past. Some of you may remember their extremely bizarre Sea Man game for the Dreamcast which was one of the pioneering voice-activated games. It's been quite a few years since the development and release of Sea Man and yet it appears that voice recognition in games still has a way to go. But more on that later.

Here's the deal: You play as the legendary general Yamanouchi Kagetora, or "Yamanouchi Kagetor" for short (I remove the "a" at the end of Kagetora to save time) and your goal is to have your revenge against the enemy general who betrayed your father. Unfortunately you don't seem to have a lot of men on your side so you can't just walk over to the enemy villages and start kicking ass. What you lack in sheer numbers, you make up for with some truly insane weapons. These weapons of mass 'distraction' include the Odama which is a large pinball-esque sphere that is controlled by, what else?, a right and left flipper allowing you to reign rolling hot death upon the enemies and if you're not careful, friendly fire (or friendly squashing more accurately) casualties on your side. The Odama can also be used to destroy buildings and weapons while acting as a juggernaut, helping to advance your troops. Second in terms of raw power is the Ninten Bell, which when carried onto the battlefield, can be struck with the Odama sending out a powerful energy wave that will decimate your foes. You can also toss gigantic rice balls onto the battlefield. No really, you can. But that's not all! You will also be able to power up the Odama with green orbs and hearts. If you power the Odama by capturing green orbs, you will then be able to "recruit" enemies to your side without harming your own troops, by simply rolling over them. Capturing hearts affects the Ninten Bell, causing it to glow a nice ethereal white. If you ring the Ninten Bell with the Odama while it's glowing white, you'll also get the green glowing Odama recruitment bal and be able to make the enemy switch teams. Maybe the US army should get one of those... On top of all of that, you'll also be giving out vocal commands to your troops with the microphone, which is included and is the same one found in the recent Mario Party and Karaoke Revolution Party games.

Even with these awesome weapons at your disposal, this battle won't be easy. I don't know about you but if I was fighting an enemy that sent out a huge metallic ball to crush me or a bell that would cause me and my comrades to die instantly, I'd turn tail and leave my post. Unfortunately for you, the work ethic of your enemy is far sturdier than mine. Odama is a needlessly difficult and frustrating game at times, which really diminishes the fun you could be having. I like a challenge just as much as the next guy, but Odama pushed me to my boiling point on a few occasions for a myriad of reasons. First off, while the game looks like a pinball table, the phsyics of the Odama aren't quite as fluid or as quick as you'd expect. Secondly, like in real pinball, it's game over when your Odama falls between your flippers. Thirdly, having to push the Ninten Bell to various locations on the map often requires far more troops than you've got - which results in the enemy pushing the Bell past your flipper which culminates in you losing. Fourthly, if you actually do make it to the end of the level, it will usually be by the skin of your teeth. You will start the next mission with what you ended the last mission with, which usually isn't much. Odama allows you to replay the level again in hopes you can increase your ending level cache, but since you're relying on the physics of a pinball, a lot of your success comes right down to luck, rather than strategy. Here's the kicker - if you return to earlier levels for a replay and lose, you won't be able to return to the later levels you already unlocked. You'll have to replay them again. If that's not worth hucking your entire GameCube against the wall, I don't know what is.

The learning curve of Odama will probably send most casual gamers right back to the rental store to play something else, but those who stick with it, far beyond the urge to burst into tears, will find a game that effectively plays different each time. The touchy controls play a part in the overall ineffectiveness of mastering Odama, which might actually appeal to some gamers hellbent on playing the next impossible to master video game. Using the flippers is easy enough, but Vivarium has given the player control over the playing field as well. The left analog stick allows you to tilt the battlefield, which is supposed to give you control over the path of the ball but it mostly leads to, what else...frustration. The microphone mechanic works moderately well, but will often not recognize what you're saying in the heat of battle, which also leads to frustration.

Visually the feudal Japan battlefield is bland and won't hold the interest of eye candy junkies in the slightest. I found the environments to be quite lacking, which really hurts the games overall appeal as you'll only want to end the stage, rather than be excited to see what's coming next. The sound quality of the game is another matter entirely - as the sounds of war emanate throughout and are quite excellent. Good soundtrack as well.

Cube owners are usually more inviting to these kinds of quirky titles and chances are high that some of them will definitely be singing Odama's praises. I just can't get behind it as it suffers from too high a frustration factor which could have been easily tweaked. There are simply too many gameplay elements going on at once which results in an uneven experience. It's definitely oddball and innovative, which I applaud, but it's not executed well enough to be considered a classic in the same vein as Katamari Damacy or other equally imaginative games.

Features:

  • Using giant flippers, players aim the giant Odama ball to bowl over enemies, shatter their defenses and wreak havoc on the battlefield.
  • With the Nintendo GameCube Mic, players command men to charge the enemy, defend positions, seize the enemy gates and much more.

By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director

Rating out of 5
Odama (GC)
3.2
Graphics
Not exactly the prettiest GC game in existence.
3.3
Control
The flippers work well, the tilt feature is too touchy and the voice recognition system is touch and go.
4.0
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great ambient battle sounds and soundtrack.
2.5
Play Value
Will be extremely frustrating for most gamers. Once you're done, you're done.
3.3
Overall Rating - Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: GC
Dev: Vivarium
Pub: Nintendo
Release: Apr 2006
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best