Fizzball

  • December 22, 2006
  • by: Oz
  • available on: PC

FizzBall

Developer: Grubby Games
Publisher: Arcade Town

Release Date: 11/6/2006

ESRB: E

Genre: puzzle
Setting: puzzle
Simplistically, this entire review of Fizzball could be summed up into one sentiment:

"I was happily playing Fizzball, when my wife stole my laptop for 3 and a half hours so SHE could play. After that, it was stolen 2 other times by two other people who peeked over my shoulder and wanted to have a go."

For the sake of detail and further praise, however, I'll be a little more specific.

In Fizzball, you control Professor Fizzwizzle and his fizzball bumper - whose chief purpose is to bump the amazing fizzball around the playing field. You see, something has begun scaring all of the animals on the Professor's islands and in order to round them up without any harm, he's developed a variety of super-tough bubbles (fizzballs) that will swallow and protect any items that fit inside. Unfortunately, they start out pretty small. The solution is to launch the fizzball and begin enveloping tiny items that expand the bubble from within. Eventually, smaller animals and birds (bluejays, bunnies, turtles!) will be fair game for rescue, with the bigger animals (ostriches, bears, bengal tigers!!!) following after you've done quite a bit of fizzball growing. Once all animals in a given stage are rescued, the Professor zooms off to the next area containing frightened critters that needing a quick corraling.

The mechanics and controls of Fizzball are very simple, and the entire game can be played without using your keyboard. The Professor's rocket-powered fizzball bumper rolls back and forth on a set of rails at the bottom of your screen, and it chases your mouse's lateral position. Your left mouse button will fire off the few items/powerups in the game that have expendable charges, and your right mouse button will activate the turbo-fans mounted on your bumper. That's it! This control scheme is fairly standard for all the "bar bumps bouncing ball" games out there - so what is it that makes Fizzball so good?

First up is the level design concept. The animals in Fizzball aren't just roaming free in fields - they're hiding in forests and animal pens, taking cover amongst the rocks and trees of the wild as well as the fences, barrels, and crates of their manmade shelters. After all, these critters are scared! As such, it's your job to plot how you're going to work your rescue bubble in to get them - be it a shot around the corner of an oak, or smashing through the side of a corral with repeated bumps from your growing Fizzball. This has called for a lot of fun by skillful use of angles, because there aren't a lot of flat surfaces sitting parallel to your bumper tracks. These aren't your usual monocolor brick-barriers! Barrels have round sides, crates and fences may be sitting at any angle, and animals that are too big for your fizzball to swallow act like mobile bumpers - bumpers with horns and shells and legs - all capable of bouncing your bubble off in a weird direction. Combine this with a mix of destrucible and indestructible barriers (say, crates versus rocks) and there's a lot of mileage to be had in some simple level designs. The perfect shot to sneak a fizzball up top in one iteration may be ruined by a grizzly bear sitting in front of the gap next time around, and trust me - Fluffy won't move until your fizzball has some muscle to it!

One of the things that I feel truly distinguishes Fizzball from other games of its kin is ball (fizzball!) control. In your standard "smash bricks, clear level" game, talented players often develop a relatively arcane sense of how the ball bounces off their paddle while they massage the particular shot they want. Fizzball plays much closer to the true "angle of incidence equals angle of reflection" concept while still giving players a wide variety of possible shots on any given fizzball bounce. They accomplish this by making your bumper a curved surface mounted to the front of the good Professor's rocket cart. The explanation of how this helps involves math nobody wants to hear, but trust me when I say that it's very intuitive and that just about everyone will be able to ricochet some impressive shots after a little bit of practice. The second aspect of improved ball control are the turbo fans you can bring to bear. These fans apply a constant pressure to the fizzball when it's out in the field, and allow skilled players to remotely steer the bubble by smoothly changing its direction of travel. The fans seem to work radially, so there are a pretty impressive range of gyrations available once your "fan-fu" is strong enough. With intuitive paddle bounces and a GREAT tool like the turbo-fans, I never had long to wait when I was trying to rescue that last duckling who was determined to hide behind a pine tree.

Another feature that makes his game pulse with ultra-simple fun are the trophies and side objectives that you encounter. Once you're comfortable smashing through fences to save sheep and puppies, the game will start adding extra challenges like pollution. Yes, even on the Professor's islands people manage to store toxic sludge in dangerous looking barrels and dump said barrels in decidedly unsafe places. If you can steer your fizzball well enough, you'll rescue the local animals before you hit any cannisters and release green clouds of toxic goop. Doing so will rake in some quality bonus points, though your true motivation is, of course, saving the environment! While you're racking up bigger and bigger scores, you can also take on some of the challenges that win you trophies. These include simpler, sequential awards that acknowledge straightforward achievement (such as "Go 3/5/(etc) levels without losing a fizzball") through the tougher trophies that change the way you play entire levels (such as "Do not touch the fizzball with your bumper, only your turbo-fans"). Lastly, Fizzball includes a number of bonus levels that are specially crafted to test your fizzballing skills and allow you to rack up super-high scores by fulfilling their objectives more and more thoroughly. These levels don't penalize you for losing fizzballs, which allows the more compulsive player to attack them again and again, seeing how good you can get at abstract things like turtle-wrangling and crate demolition derbies.

I also want to mention Fizzballs overall atmosphere as a really positive aspect of the product. It's a bright, colorful game with graphics and sounds that are crisp, well executed, and full of amusing details. When animals are struck by Fizzballs that can't yet capture them, geese will honk, monkeys will dance, chickens lay eggs (which are themselves available for rescue), and sleeping dogs will wake up to bark cheerfully until you can get your fizzball ready for occupation. There is a kids mode that adds an energy forcefield to the bottom of the screen (preventing the loss of fizzballs) and throws in an animal quiz for younger players to learn about the critters they're busily rescuing. I am not a person that really resonates with "cute", but I can recognize it when it's well done - and Fizzball is very well done. I think my wife and her 3 and a half hours agree with me.

I can only think of a few negative things to say about Fizzball, and all of them are technical in nature. Firstly, hit detection at shallow angles is a little spotty. When a fizzball is travelling almost horizontally across the screen, I sometimes feel like I have to chase the bubble well after it should have taken its bounce off of my sliding bumper. Once this is a known quantity, however, it's an easy adjustment to make - so this is no more than an initial annoyance that may not bother others as much as it struck me. Secondly, I ran into a few instances where my fizzball caromed into a copse of trees and got stuck. I'm under the impression that it ate some acorns while it was bouncing around and it grew a bubble size ... making it too big to get back out of the circle of trees. It doesn't happen often, but it has happened to me more than once - so it's probably best described as "rare". Lastly, I noticed that Fizzballhas a Linux version - which I applaud! I downloaded this and checked their instructions to run the game, and they didn't actually work. Being a savvy user, I saw what needed correction - and I hope that anyone running Linux would be able to correct the problem as quickly as I did - but it might not work 100% "out of the box".

Aside from those small details, Fizzball is a joy to play. It's involving and engaging without demanding a ton of energy to play. It makes me laugh, and I find myself booting it up an awful lot for a game that's as inexpensive as it is.

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About the Author, Dan Ozdowski (A.K.A Oz)

I'm a volleyball playing nomad who's been blowing up aliens, scoring touchdowns/goals, dogfighting, slaying dragons, mowing down hordes of enemy tanks, headshotting, and saving damsels in distress since my dad brought home the very first Atari system. My game-tastes are very diverse, as I enjoy street racers, sports games (especially "hyper" sports games like, say, NFL Street), shooters, RPGs, a good MMO here and there, and pretty much anything else that doesn't involve a Pokemon!