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Publisher: Mumbo Jumbo    Genre: Arcade
Min OS X: 10.1    CPU: G3 @ 450 MHz    RAM: 128 MB

Snowball Run
June 2, 2003 | Karen Halloran

Click to enlarge
The marble roller genre has evolved from its humble isometric view roots to a fully 3D landscape in titles like Garage Games' Marble Blast. Another addition to the 3D marble roller is the cute animal, either trapped inside the marble (as is the case with Sega's Super Monkey Ball series for the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance) or riding on top of it, as in MacPlay and Mumbo Jumbo's recently released Snowball Run for the Mac and PC.

What we have in Snowball Run is a fairly standard cute animal 3D marble roller from MacPlay's budget line, but the good news is that in this case budget doesn't mean it's bad. Snowball Run comes in a very scaled-down package, but its simplicity is also its elegance. All of the documentation is provided through in-game tutorials, eliminating the need for a separate print manual. It has modest system requirements despite being OS X-only, and should definitely be kind to older machines. It also has a very useful feature for the mobile gamer - once installed it does not require the CD to run.

The concept is kind of weird, but I'll try to explain. The game is set in some sort of theme park in the sky with magnificent rollercoasters and merry-go-rounds apparently supported by nothing more than the clouds which float by them. You control an impossibly cute penguin riding a snowball in what is obviously a warm climate and guide him through midair-suspended tracks to the goal. The tracks are made up of things like gigantic ice wafers, layer cake with sprinkles in the icing, peppermint sticks and gumdrop obstacles. Despite all the surrounding high-calorie riches, all the penguin himself gets to eat are fish. Brightly-colored cartoony fish with big eyes, but still just fish; at least collecting enough of them will give the penguin extra lives. When the snowball is rolled off of the track, the pengiun will give a squeal of impending doom before parachuting to safety.

Snowball Run fun physics facts: a penguin riding a showball can top out on land at just over 100MPH (120MPH while airborne). The same penguin, dangling from a little penguin parachute, falls through space at precisely 14MPH.

A lot has to be said for the presentation and personality of the star of the show, "the penguin" as he is named in the in-game documentation. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into his appeal and presentation. He's personable and enthusiastic; and jaw-droppingly, mind-meltingly cute, especially when doing the level-end victory dance. Little pengy guy also gamely controls the snowball with his feet despite suffering from the condition known as "Rayman shin"; that courageous little flightless bird.

Snowball Run retains the most redeeming feature of the marble roller genre: the child-oriented and deceptively cute packaging that still delivers a complex and challenging gameplay experience. The difficulty ramps up quite consistently and at an appropriate pace. Some tracks did seem much easier than they should have been considering where they were placed in the game, but this also depends on the player's chosen path to the goal. Multiple attempts at the same track will eventually be rewarded with success, which gives the game the necessary "just one more shot at this one" reason to not go do something else for far longer than you may have originally intended.

The control of the snowball is very tight and responsive, and senstivity can even be adjusted as an in-game option. Although the game can easily be configured to work with a game controller, I found that using the keyboard was the most accurate and easy way to play.

The only control complaint I have are with how the game handles certain events with the snowball. There are occasions where the camera would react to colliding with an object on the track by positioning itself to the side of the penguin - a very difficult view to cope with during gameplay. Since there is apparently no key to force the camera to correct, the only way I found to fix the problem was to continue to move the snowball until the camera righted itself (fortunately this never takes long). This doesn't happen very often, but if it does it stands a good change of costing you the level. Also, the game will sometimes react to a minor snowball and track object collision by completely about-facing the penguin, which makes it very difficult to get back on track. The game also did crash sometimes, but not often, when loading a new level.


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