Game developers are wont to combine genres. It’s the go-to solution for those seeking a challenging project or trying to reach multiple niches at once, and often yields great praise in reviews.
“Odama” takes this practice to its logical extreme: how would a combination real-time strategy (RTS) and pinball game play?
The eponymous Odama is a massive boulder that bowls over everything in its path, and the goal of each stage is to lead a group of four soldiers carrying a bell to a given exit gate.
The Odama can hit the bell, sending out a powerful shockwave, and soldiers will follow commands given with the GameCube Microphone, hence the RTS-pinball label.
“Odama” is the rare example of a game with a front-loaded difficulty curve that works. Much like “Demon’s Souls” or “La-Mulana,” it’s best to read the manual or look up a strategy guide to learn about all the systems you’ll need to consider.
Voice commands, items, tilt, morale, soldier counts, strategic sacrifices, well-timed bell rings and context-sensitive actions all need to be used at critical points in order to succeed, making for a more deliberate and complex affair than your average video pinball game.
The eleven “tables” keep a healthy variety; one might require precision aiming to guide the Odama down a narrow track, allowing the player to “purify” a temple by circling it several times, while another will be a scrolling endurance run down a city street, and yet another will have evil bells the player must avoid.
Vivarium’s trademark absurdist humor shines through in many of these designs, with things like a giant spider with a human head or an optional sauna area being some of the more colorful examples (and the final level contains a secret too hilarious to spoil).
The narrator’s dialogue is likewise ridiculous, seeing him praise you with excessive enthusiasm if you succeed, comment on your incompetence if you fail, break the fourth wall if you retry and ask whether you left if you pause. I was motivated to keep sallying forth through the more frustrating levels just to see what else lie in wait.
While the visuals won’t turn any heads, the low-poly models allow more units to be active at once and the Flintstones-style image of three sumo wrestlers heaving to control a flipper is certainly going the extra mile.
On the other hand, the auditory accompaniment — save for the credits theme — is a total letdown, because it consists only of taiko drum percussion and grunting noises; however historically accurate it may be, it gets old quickly.
Besides the barrier to entry concerning difficulty, “Odama” had few flaws that would dissuade me from recommending it, excepting technical issues. It works well ... most of the time. On the rare occasion that the GameCube Microphone fails, you’ll be yelling over and over in vain, and tense battle scenarios can be interrupted by slowdown from the sheer number of polygons onscreen.
There were also one or two instances in my playthrough in which the soldier AI would go haywire, marching the soldiers back to the beginning of the stage with no rhyme or reason.
Overall, “Odama” is a refreshing and original mix of two disparate genres. It creates a new form of challenge by testing a variety of skills, and has a subtle sense of humor.
While it doesn’t last long, the free play mode adds replay value, and I’ll cherish “Odama” for a long time to come.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools and has developed and published four games, “BORINGCORRIDOR,” “Accelerant,” “HouseThatJackBuilt,” and “userMendacious.” He is a neutral game reviewer.
If You Play
Platform: Nintendo GameCube (playable on Nintendo Wii)
Peripherals: To play “Odama” on Wii, a GameCube Memory Card, Controller, and Microphone are needed.
ESRB Rating: E10+
Release Date: April 10, 2006
Genre (if applicable): pinball/RTS hybrid