Pac Man Ghost: BlinkyThe Mac Game Blog
Review Redux: Tractor Beam
Mac OS X Game Review

December 21, 2006

FizzBall
• Homepage: FizzBall
• Price: $19.95 USD
• Mac CPU: Universal (PowerPC & Intel)
:p - :| - :) - :D
Breakout is a standard sort of game, not that it makes much sense in a plot sort of way. Here's a ball. Now bounce it up to the bricks for fun and profit. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of variations on this theme, and I think I've played most of them. None of them are like FizzBall from Grubby Games. Pack your sense of humor and your sense of the absurd. We're going to take a FizzBall for a spin.

Click to zoom
Presentation
FizzBall is more than your average breakout clone. Full of whimsy and detail, the cartoon style of the game exudes fun.

As you take Professor Fizzwizzle through the various environments, subtle changes in landscape and fauna abound. Where there were bluebirds on the prairie, the desert reveals buzzards. The animals of the landscapes are full of personality, each with animation cycles all their own.

Different landscapes also feature different weather patterns. Rainstorms bring lightning that shakes the entire screen. Snowfall drifts down the mountain levels. The weather effects add variety and a layer of difficulty as you'll find it tricky to track your FizzBall within the environmental effects of the game.

Every so often the plot is advanced with cartoon panels overlaid on the screen. These are just right: they reflect the same art design present in the game proper, provide just enough information to keep you interested in the narrative, then they get out of your way. If I'm to be forced to see a cutscene however brief, FizzBall demonstrates a great way to get it done.

Gameplay
Buy now you're probably going, "Woah, animals? Breakout?" I hear you. As the story goes, Professor Fizzwizzle, a brilliant, ecologically-minded eccentric finds himself on an archipelago, once populated, now mysteriously devoid of humans. Only the animals remain. Taken over by compassion, the Professor realizes he must save the animals and place them into a sanctuary where they can be cared for and fed until the missing people are discovered. He and his robot pal decide that the best way to accomplish this task is by rounding all the animals up into a device called a FizzBall. Are you still with me? Good.

The FizzBall has amazing properties. It's indestructible, can expand indefinitely, and it does so by collecting objects from the landscape. The catch is that the Professor can't lose the ball. He doesn't have many replacements. So, by catching objects of increasing size, acorns, apple, butterflies, the Professor can expand his FizzBall so it can catch larger objects. Frogs, bunnies, turtles, all the way up to cows, horses, and other truly large livestock. A breakout game where you collect animals is truly silly, but not really more so than breaking bricks with a ball, and the animal collection theme really works.

The game is ideal for casual gamers young and old -- in fact the kids mode features a ball you can't lose and fun quizzes about the animals you rescue for the sanctuary. The game's story mode lets you play as you go. A couple levels at a time will take you five minutes or so, and when you quit, you can pick up right where you left off.

It's by no means a hard game. As you play, the ball speeds up somewhat, but as it gets larger, it becomes much easier to hit. In fact, the beginning of a level is much harder than the ending and when you're most likely to lose a ball, so be aware.

The control in game isn't terribly accurate, but that's okay. The developers included a way to influence the path of the ball while it's in play -- the super fan. Apparently, the Professor has a gizmo that blows the ball in the direction of his choosing. It's kind of like shaking the pinball machine, except if you overdo it, you run out of fan power temporarily rather than lose you ball. In any case, it's a thoughtful inclusion to let you put English on your ball in play, and it makes the game more enjoyable in its flexibility.

Filled with powerups, bonus levels, side paths the game has plenty of variety. After two weeks of playing off and on, I'm not even off the easy levels, though I'm past level 23. There's much to see and do in FizzBall, easily covering the game's price.

One last touch. For skilled players, the game has a number of trophies you can unlock for various feats. You get "Ducks in a Row" for rescuing a mother duck before you catch her ducklings, for instance. You get trophies for scoring five perfects on bonus levels, or for not losing a ball after a number of levels, and so on. Unlocking them all isn't a simple task, and provides depth for the goal-oriented casual gamer.

Macness
The game runs on Mac and Windows, so the developers didn't have OS X on their mind exclusively. That's not to say that this is a crude port, however.

The game launches into its own interface, and it's well-designed, on the whole. Large, colorful buttons with easily legible labels help with the navigation end of the game. In fact, the only interface gotcha that got me was that you couldn't click inside the options sliders to set values, even though they look extremely clickable. Everything else was just fine.

FizzBall respects mouse position in window mode as well. You don't have to perform any voodoo keystrokes to release mouse focus from the game. Just pause the action in-game then move you mouse to where you like -- to check you email, perhaps? Answer an IM. Click in the window when you're done and you're back.

A feature that isn't unique to the Mac, but should be in more games, is FizzBall's dynamic detail adjustment. When the frame rate drops below a certain level with all the environmental effects going on, a popup stops the action momentarily and asks you if you'd like to improve performance by turning down the detail. Easily accepted or dismissed, it was a friendly touch that shows the developers understand the needs of their target audience, and the deeper significance of that choice shouldn't be lost on us Mac users.

A quick roundup of some other niceties: windowed mode minimizes nicely, FizzBall is a Universal Binary, and it runs on 10.2 or better.

Conclusion
Absurd and delightful, you can't help but be amused at FizzBall. The gameplay is tight, the design is excellent, and the game runs without a hitch. For $19.95, FizzBall is an excellent take on an old classic that brings a lot of fun to the table as well as a smile on your face.

+
  • Original take on old idea.
  • Great art design.
  • Whimsical and fun.
  • Many levels.
  • Kids Mode.
-
  • May be too easy?
Comments
Thanks for the kind review, Kit! We're happy to know you enjoyed FizzBall. FYI: Our games are programmed on Mac OS X machines! We port to Windows after the fact ;-)
Ryan Clark (Homepage) on 2006-12-24 02:41 (Reply)


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