Ever since Marble Madness rolled out onto the gaming scene all those decades ago, the humble ball rolling puzzle platformer has had a place in the hearts of many. Yet while new ideas have been tacked on over the years through the likes of Kula World, Marble Blast Ultra and the Super Monkey Ball offerings, the basics have fundamentally stayed the same.
It’s here where Orbals comes in. A game which, on the face of it, could well continue the rolling delights as the team at FarSight Studies attempt to infuse some personality to the genre, giving the standard ball an animal-themed makeover.
And Orbals could well have been the game that saw that ball rolling admiration continue. At least if it wasn’t for some seriously strange gameplay and design decisions.
The main, and pretty much only, idea sitting behind Orbals is that you take your spherical character – choosing from that of a Doggo, Bull, Bird or Dragon (although if you wanna tell us how we unlock the Dragon, that would be awesome, because after playing through the entirety of Orbals, he’s still locked out) – and send them scuttling off across no less than 100 levels. Your goal is to work your way past a variety of obstacles in order to smash all the crates you can find to smithereens. Do so and you’ll move on to the next stage, rinsing and repeating efforts.
The difficulty, or at least slight change up from the norm, is that these crates are coloured – red, green, blue, yellow and transparent. And in order to smash each coloured crate, you’ll have to have switched the colour of your character to suit. Helpfully placed coloured orbs allow this, so Orbals pretty much boils down to hunting down an orb and then smashing as many crates as possible, before switching up the colours to continue your spree.
As you can imagine, you’ll be found switching back and forth between hues time and time again in Orbals, as you slowly unlock pathways to success.
It wouldn’t be a puzzler, or a platformer, without some degree of flexibility and engagement though and whilst early stages are simple affairs, as you progress through the worlds, verticality, shutes and moving platforms come into play. As do a variety of other obstacles like electrified crates which will frazzle you if you get too near, magnets which pull and push you around, spiked balls which home in and more. It’s for the best to manoeuvre yourself around these as well as you can.
Make your way through each stage as fast as you can and you’ll be rewarded with gold, silver or bronze medals, all dictated by the amount of Mojo you have left at the end. The problem is, nowhere does Orbals show which stages you have, or haven’t gained each medal for – and when something like that is also linked to the all-important Xbox achievements and Gamerscore, the omission is an utter crime.
This Mojo is a key component of Orbals, slowly counting down as a timer, but boosted by the breaking of each and every crate. It’s also this which is linked to the special abilities of each of your characters, with the Doggo able to dash, the Bull capable of ramming blocks and the Bird (or chicken, as it actually is) happily taking to the skies with a short bit of flight. Each action of an ability drains your Mojo, as does the occasional falling to your death, whether that be through your own doing or the fault of the game.
These abilities are rarely needed though and even though each character is upgradeable in certain aspects, it all seems a bit tacked on for the sake of it. We just wish that FarSight had given us a ball and let us roll our way through the stages. We’d have been more than happy with that.
The frustrations with Orbals further arise in many ways. Firstly squeezing through narrow paths which are lined with electric-fuelled crates are an utter ballache, mostly as precision is the least of Orbals’ concerns. Throw in those magnets at the same time and whilst we’d like to think of ourselves as relatively calm gamers, anyone with rage quitting tendencies should stay well away.
Further to that and whilst stages are fairly well-designed and allow for some decent toing and froing, we’re pretty sure duplication has raised its head more than once through our playthrough. If you’re creating a game and run out of ideas, it’s probably best to put the brakes on the level numbers and rein things in a bit.
It’s also a clunky old affair. Aside from a brief loading screen prior to every single level (there are 100 levels, remember!), collectible powerups are hardly worth bothering about, whilst it’s ever so easy to fall through pipes or off platforms through no fault of your own. It’s here where Orbals begins to verge on the ridiculous.
And whilst it’s a fairly decent enough looking game with fun visuals, Orbals certainly isn’t something that will ever push your systems to any kind of limit.
So that leaves us to get on to the audio. Honestly, if you don’t turn down the music within 30 seconds of firing up Orbals, you’re a better person than us. It’s loud, it’s highly repetitive (feeling like a 5 second trip that is constantly looped) and just brings nothing to the experience. We’d go as far as to say you’re probably best off turning the volume down entirely in fact as the sound effects aren’t much cop either, picking up some other form of audio for your ear enjoyment instead.
With all things considered you’re probably best off giving Orbals a miss entirely. The gameplay is frustrating when it should have been fun, the precision is off and the lack of consideration given by the game itself is enough to end what could have been a joyous relationship. When you factor in the asking price (a price that has already been cut swiftly after launch but needs at least another 50% off again), and Orbals fails to ever get near the classics of the genre it is trying to build on. And that’s without mention of the massively repetitive audio and dodgy mechanics.
Take in an entirely new ball-rolling experience in Orbals on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One