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Mac Game Review: GooBall

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Full disclosure: I don’t play too many different games, especially recent games. My style of gaming is that I find those I like, cling to them like Linus Van Pelt’s blanket, and if they’re fun I play them like they’re going out of style. (And they are).

[ADBLOCKHERE]So now that I spend weeks on business trips with my trusty PowerBook, I’m in search for affordable yet lasting fun in terms of computer games compatible for Mac OS X. Most of the games on your local Wal-Mart are Windows compatible, which is fine for when I’m home, but does me no good when it’s just Mac and me in Tennessee.

Ambrosia Software’s GooBall is an arcade/puzzle game reminiscent of the NES classic Marble Madness. But instead of a marble, it’s a four-eyed alien inside the ball, and the ball is gooey. So the title makes sense. Also it implements about 20 more years of technology than Marble Madness.

Poor little Goober — our multi-optic hero is trapped inside a sphere, which is trapped in a three-dimensional platform world. So the concept is simple: get him to the exit and don’t die. Dying is bad.

At first this tried-and-true concept seemed mundane. “Yeah, I got him to the exit. That wasn’t hard.” But the levels got exponentially tougher, it seemed. More and more opportunities to plunge to a spherical death surrounded our little Goober. There are no enemies — unlike Marble Madness’s dreaded vacuum cleaners or acid puddles — but there are moving platforms and bumps in the road that can knock you off course in your path to ultimate getting-out-aliveness.

The added game play, besides rolling and jumping, is “gooing.” The goo allows our extra-terrestrial hero to stick to walls and sides of platforms, making it a bit easier to recover from an errant jump, like in Ninja Gaiden. (Man, I’m just on a roll with the retro references, aren’t I?) There are also angled jumps whilst all gooed up on a wall, which is a required type of jump to finish some of the stages. Just so you know.

Navigating the narrow ledges seemed a bit time consuming and slow at first, but again a second play of the game showed me that the stages involve a lot of risk reward. Speeding up that gooey ball allows for a much more entertaining stage.

Zipping through the stages proves useful especially in the later rounds, when your time limit shrinks from about two minutes to under 30 seconds. This adds another dimension to the game not seen in the previous rounds. Sure, you can play it safe and goo-crawl through the round, but it’ sure as heck isn’t gonna’ get you to the finish in time. So the short-timed stages remind me a bit of — here we go again — Sonic the Hedgehog with a time limit.

The first time I really enjoyed this game was during the Barmy Balloons stage (top screenshot). Navigating those balloons was a real chore, because carefully aiming my goo-jumps at the proper angle often resulted in a shameful plummet. But once I successfully traversed the tops of those balloons, I took my palms off my laptop and saw sweat underneath. Yeah, perspiration is proof that I was into it.

After that, the stages became faster and faster. The ledges became Nicole Ritchie thin. I even went back and played a few of the other stages that rewarded high speed movement. They were more fun too.

As nifty as the game is, the concept is bound to get stale. But according to the game’s Read Me file, there is a level of difficulty that unlocks after beating all the stages:

When the game nears completion, the final game mode will unlock! Hard Core mode is insane, with game play at 150% speed plus extra tilting! That’ll make GooBall feel just as challenging as it did when you first started playing. Mmmm, sweet memories. Because of the extreme speed, Hard Core mode is excellent for getting extremely good high scores… if you can survive, that is!

So that gives me something to look forward to. More dying.

The game’s not a masterpiece. It’s not gonna’ be something I’ll remember forever, but you know what? It’s fun as heck. It’s straightforward. It’s challenging. The learning curve is a bit wacky, but you don’t have to be a first person shooting whiz to go deep into this game.

Goober will keep me company on those weeks away from home.

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