A few months ago I wrote a small feature on an up-and-coming Mac games developer, Over the Edge Entertainment. Well, since that time theyíve agreed to a deal with Ambrosia to distribute their first game, GooBall, which is now rapidly closing in on release.
The premise to GooBall is simple. By controlling the pitch, yaw and roll of the level, you try to get your creature-in-a-ball to the Exit, collecting all the available crystals and aliens along the way. Seems simple, doesnít it? Well, factor in maze or tight-rope like level design and the ability to climb up any inclining surface and it still feels easy to grasp. The whole game is a super ramped-up clone of Segaís successful Monkey Ball series with the added twist being the Goo ability of the ball, which allows precise control, jumping and wall-climbing.
The Goo has opened up a whole new way of thinking about navigation in GooBall. No longer is the ball-encased character limited to flat planes or pathways. Itís possible to stick to any incline right up to a vertical wall allowing the ball to traverse hills and odd-shaped objects in the world. So if, for example, there is a crystal waiting to be collected at the top of an Incan statue, then the GooBall can jump on to its side and Goo all the way to the top. Also, if the GooBall is sticking to a surface and then jumps, the ball will fly off perpendicular to the surface it is stuck to, enabling the player to use floating balloons as improvised platforms.
Level design is varied, with styles ranging from Area 51-inspired desert to Aztec swamps and Tron-styled outer space. Each visual style has its own distinct structural style. Early desert levels have flowing ramps and bridges while later levels in space are a collection of closely knit platforms. Each offers a unique challenge which gradually increases as the game progresses. Expect many heart-in-mouth moments as you delicately balance the controls to keep the GooBall rolling along narrow ledges and precarious platforms.
Controls in the game are simple. The arrows control the pitch of the world and therefore the direction of the ball. The space bar makes the ball jump, and command activates the Goo mode. This game isnít aimed at the those obsessed with a keyboard full of controls. The simple system provides all the control you need to guide the GooBall around the varied mazes.
Graphically the game is fantastic. Shaders are used to great effect on the main GooBall character as well as the environment to create spectacular water effects, reflective crystals and plenty more. On the higher settings soft-lighting and out-of-focus effects are enabled lending the game a distinctive look. Objects not in direct line with the camera are smoothed and gently blurred with shadows subtly altering shades. These effects have been used to great effect on recent Xbox titles such as Halo 2 and I believe this is the first time they have appeared on Mac. Despite the graphical excesses of the game, the performance on my 1GHz PowerBook even with its under-powered NVIDIA 5200FX GPU is surprisingly smooth and solid. In the latest beta versions there are occasional hiccups and some levels are more optimised than others but generally the game achieves a steady frame-rate even with the highest settings.