Orbz Review





Developer: Extreme AI Publisher: Extreme AI
Release Date: July 15, 2004 Also On: None

Every once in a while, a game will come along that delights and surprises gamers everywhere. For the Zodiac, Orbz is that game. The talented folks over at Extreme AI have managed to do a superb job porting 21-6 Productions’ PC version of Orbz, keeping just about everything in tact during the transition.

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The thing that makes Orbz so great is the refreshing uniqueness that it brings to the table. No, it isn’t a large, well-known franchise nor was it developed by a world renowned developer. But as 21-6 and Extreme AI show, it doesn’t take one to include the main ingredient in games: fun.

Your objective in Orbz is, put in simplest terms, to shoot a small ball which you control, called an Orb, at different stars spread throughout a three-dimensional environment. You accomplish this by aiming your Orb using the joystick and bringing up the Power Bar to control the velocity of your Orb with either the right trigger or the Blue button. The Red, Yellow, and Green buttons toggle the HUD. Specifically, Red toggles the player list, Yellow controls the zoom on the map, and Green toggles everything on the screen. The control setup is simple and intuitive enough, but I did find one problem.

The sensitivity of the joystick was far too sensitive and had my aiming reticule jumping all over the place. A quick readjustment of the sensitivity in the options menu brought it down to a reasonable level, but there were still a few times in the games where I got a bit frustrated with the controls. After a little getting used to, I was aiming like the best of them, but I felt that my early frustration could have been totally avoided had the developer just decided to include the stylus as a way to aim.

Once I had the aiming down, I dove hard into the Solo Campaign of Orbz and enjoyed every minute of it. The Solo Campaign consists of 35 different challenges that take place in 14 different courses. There are three main types of challenges. You have the standard race against the clock where you try to score as many points as you can within the time limit. You also have challenges where you have no time limit but must achieve the highest score possible by using different powerups and tactics while hitting every star on the course. Lastly, you have challenges that pit you against one or more computer players whom you must score higher than in a timed match. You must score enough points to at least earn a bronze medal before moving on to the next challenge, with the Silver and Gold medals available to reach for if you want to unlock some extras. For those concerned with replay value, you can always go back to any challenge in the campaign and try to score a little bit higher in hopes of capturing that Gold medal.

Extreme AI was also kind enough to include multiplayer support via Zodiac’s built-in Bluetooth. With recent games canning their multiplayer modes, I’m glad to see the trend broken. Orbz allows you to take on a friend 1v1, but since Orbz is all about fast action with lots of people, bot support for up to 8 players was included. It would have been nice to see support for 8 human players, but I can see where the problems would occur in the frame rate, so bot support is a befitting substitute. Don’t have any friends with a Zodiac? Besides the obvious solution of making your friends get a Zodiac, Orbz allows the player to play multiplayer mode only against bots. This alone allows for almost infinite replay value and was an inclusion I was surprised but satisfied to see.

Of course, while it is obvious Orbz has a heavy focus on fun, addicting gameplay, it’s equally as obvious that the developers knew that a game can’t, unfortunately, live off of it alone, but instead must also include other immersive elements to make a game great and compliment the gameplay. I am happy to report that the graphics and sound department didn’t suffer. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Orbz sports some of the best graphics the Zodiac has seen thus far. You will find fairly large environments filled with hills and waterfalls, castles and trees, stars and more, all rendered in 3D.

Of course, this is also the root of one of my very few problems with the game. In times when there are many objects on the screen, be prepared for some pretty heavy slowdown. Is it still playable? Yes, but it’s just one of those things that should have been done better and keeps Orbz just a notch down from what it could have been.

Just as the graphics impressed, the sound does the same. Throughout the level you will find homely, upbeat background music that fits the game well. The only problem I have with this is that there is little variance in the music, lending itself to repetitiveness as the game progresses. In addition to the background music, there is also a good amount of sound effects from hitting stars and powerup or hearing taunts. A few ambient noises also are a welcome extra that helps make the player feel as though they are in the game.

Then there are the little things that aren’t necessary, but what great game has aimed for just the minimum? Things like a battery indicator in the lower left portion of the screen to let you know how much juice you have left. After all, the Zodiac is also a PDA, and it does you no good to unknowingly run your battery dead only to find later that you need an important address or phone number.

Taunts are also a welcome inclusion, activated by holding down the joystick and pressing any of the action buttons. And who could forget the Orbz themselves, of which there are more than 20 to choose from, each with its own unique design. Don’t forget that you can also unlock more Orbz by getting Gold Medals in the challenges. You get a new Orb every 5 Gold medals, and seeing as there are 35 challenges, one can assume that there are 7 Orbz to unlock.

For those of you hoping to get a taste of Orbz before setting aside 20 dollars, there is a demo available at the Tapwave website. Kudos to 21-6 Productions for creating a fun, simple, and addictive game and to Extreme AI for making a wonderful port that Zodiac Freaks everywhere can enjoy. Minus one or two small inconveniences, Orbz is a solid game that should be high on the Zodiac’s must-have games list.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.1
Written by Matt Review Guide

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