Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Nintendo, for GameCube
rated E10+ for ages 10 and up (violence), $49.99 (with microphone)

Trying to describe "Odama" is a challenge.

It’s sort of a strategy game, except that you’ve got this giant pinball ... well, I guess it’s more like a pinball game with some strategy elements ... and then there’s this microphone you use ...

Hmmm. This is going to be harder than I thought.

"Odama" is an innovative title that sounds great, or at least intriguing on paper, but falters in the execution.

You are a famed samurai general up against impossible odds. Your goal is to get the magic "Ninten Bell" (yeah, I know) from the bottom of the battlefield to the top without being overrun by the enemy.

The one thing you do have on your side is the Odama, a giant ball that you roll over enemy troops or other obstacles using the flippers at the bottom of the screen.

So, yes, it is essentially a glorified pinball game.

You also control your troops using a microphone that comes with the game. Holler "press forward," "rally" or "flank and destroy" at the right moment and your army will follow your orders (assuming their morale is high).

So, yes, there is a bit of strategy involved.

And that’s where it gets complicated. Too complicated, in fact, as there are lots of little rules and tactics to follow. Many battlefields, for example, have specific requirements, such as knocking over a ladder, gaining control of a floodgate or seizing a catapult.

The basic problem with "Odama" is it tries to do too many things at once. It’s hard enough tracking the pinball while keeping your troops in line. Tacking on extra missions or rules only results in an early "game over" screen.

In fact, you’ll be seeing that screen frequently, as the difficulty bar in "Odama" is set way too high. Part of the problem is that you are limited in the number of soldiers you can have, and if too many get slaughtered on one level, it’s tough nuts for you on the next one. There is a power-up that allows you to "conscript" enemy troops by rolling over them, but its appearance isn’t frequent enough to help.

The core concept behind "Odama" is intriguing enough to make me want to see a sequel that’s a bit less punishing. There are times when the game really shines, but those moments are frequently rolled over by that big metal ball.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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