Review By: Jared Black
|# Of Players:||1|
|Accessories:||Memory Card, Nintendo GameCube Mic (Included)|
As you’d expect from Yoot Saito, the man behind the Dreamcast’s oddball title Seaman, Odama is much more than a simple pinball game. While pinball mechanics drive much the heart of the gameplay, Odama becomes much more than that by sprinkling in a generous helping of military strategy.
Odama is set in medieval Japan, with the gamer playing the role of Tamachiyo Nobutada, eldest son of Lord Yamanouchi Nobutada. When Lord Yamanouchi is betrayed by once-trusted vassal Karasuma Genshin, he takes his life rather than live in shame. Assuming the name of Kagetora, you flee to grow up. You take with you two big family secrets: the doctrine of Ninten-do (Way of Heavenly Duty), and a big ball of doom known as the Odama. A big metallic sphere, the Odama wreaks havoc when unleashed in battle, bowling over enemies, taking out strategic positions, and just in general laying the smack down on unsuspecting foes. Thus, you set out to reclaim your family’s position of power using the might of the Odama.
Each battle takes place on a battlefield, viewed from the perspective of a pinball table, with the Odama acting as your pinball. At the beginning of each battle, your trusty general will brief you on that battle’s goals, and offer up advice on how best to accomplish those goals. Thus you’ll use giant flippers to flick the Odama towards strategic fortifications, take out enemy troops, and accomplish various goals to ensure victory for your side. The battlefield may be tilted as often as possible, so there’s much more control over your Odama than you’d ever find in a standard game of pinball. At the same time, this also necessitates a slower pinball experience and very simple board layouts; so diehard pinball fans probably will not find this part of the game challenging.
That’s not to say that the game itself isn’t challenging, because there’s much more to Odama than slow pinball-based gameplay. While controlling the ball, you must also manage your troops and resources at the same time. Troops are given orders by speaking into the included microphone, with the player holding down the X button to activate it when needed. Mounted onto the top of your controller via a nifty little plastic attachment, the microphone actually works really well; in fact, it performed flawlessly throughout gameplay and much better than any other microphone I’ve ever used to issue voice commands in a game. Using it you can tell your troops to flank and destroy, press forward, halt, open up floodgates, and a variety of other commands as the situation warrants. The game also introduces these commands to you gradually, allowing you the opportunity to practice and memorize each before moving on to the next one. While you won’t get the level of strategy found in PC strategy titles, it is just enough to keep you on your toes.
These elements combined make for a fairly complicated game, as it’s tough to keep track of the Odama and keep an eye on your troops’ situation at the same time. While moving your Odama around the battlefield, you’ll also need to watch your troops’ status and deploy more, pull them back, rally them at different points, and respond to sudden changes in the battlefield effectively. All the while, you have to keep their morale high enough that they won’t refuse to listen to your orders. This means no rolling over them with the Odama (they don’t like that for some reason), and just in general managing them well enough that they stand a chance in battle. Morale can also drop if you give them voice commands that they can’t carry out, or if the enemy pushes back the bell crew.
Not only that, but at the heart of your army is the bell crew. The bell crew basically leads the charge, carrying a big bell in a never-ending (unless you give a temporary halt command) march towards the goal. They advance or are pushed back based on the tide of the war, and if pushed back into your base from whence they came the game’s over. Victory is won whenever the bell crew pushes its way through the goal, taking along with it whatever soldiers it can, which makes up the starting army in the next level. Although the bell crew can’t be destroyed, protecting it is still paramount as it can easily be pushed back if not properly protected. Oh yeah, and all of this must be done before sundown.
Perhaps the Odama’s greatest power is that it can be turned into a Heavenly Odama, by either rolling it over a green power-up or collecting enough hearts to turn the bell white and then striking it. When the Odama becomes Heavenly it turns green for a short period of time, in turn conscripting any enemy troops that are run over by it, as well as not harming any of your own troops that happen to be hit in the process. Obtaining Heavenly Odama status at just the right time can greatly change the outcome of a battle, since conscripting rows of enemy troops in one fell swoop will surely allow your own troops to advance with ease (for a while anyway). Unfortunately certain situations can also turn the Odama into an evil Odama where things are reversed, so it hurts your own troops while being totally harmless to the enemy.
Graphically, Odama is underwhelming even by current-gen standards. Soldiers on each battlefield are tiny and without any real detail, just mobs of simple sprites usually moving in groups from location to location. Dialog bubbles pop-up often with a variety of sayings from the troops, and although these can be pretty funny at times (“Does this mean we aren’t getting a bonus?” they cry, as I smush ‘em with my Odama…) they don’t exactly help to convey a sense of medieval Japan or the horrors of war. While level layouts do feature a great deal of variety, lending well to the inventive pinball-like gameplay, actual objects on each are simple and nondescript. Buildings all look basically the same, and destroy with little to no flair.
Since everything is viewed from a distance, it can also be hard to tell exactly what’s going on and where troops should be moved. Given that the game is so frantic, this is frustrating since you really need to be able to see things clearly at a glance to make quick decisions. There is a zoom feature, but since it stops gameplay (moving back out when you resume play) it’s only useful in very specific situations. This problem is increased exponentially once the sun begins to set and the amount of light decreases, making those last ditch efforts to win the battle even more frustrating. Nightfall’s negative impact on gameplay is most likely by design, but it’s still annoying.
The sound is excellent though. Your general is an older Japanese gentleman speaking native Japanese (subtitled), and he lends weight and authenticity to the setting and tide of battle. Pre-battle briefings are detailed enough, so you never feel like you’re going into a situation without at least knowing generally what to do. A battle horn blows at the start of combat, drums thump constantly to spur your troops onward, and soldiers scream war cries while the Odama destroys objects with a crunch. There’s virtually no music to speak of, but you probably won’t mind given how well everything else sounds.
Odama is unlike anything you’ve ever played before, with an inventive mix of pinball and military strategy elements that work pretty well together. Combined they create a frantic and unique game, giving the player a true feeling of accomplishment as troops pour through the goal at the end of each level. That alone makes it worth a look for those wanting to play something different.
Posted: 2006-09-20 09:38:31 PST