Merball Tournament

Fantasy sports: why don’t more developers do this kind of thing?  When I was a kid and I saw the first Harry Potter movie, I couldn’t wait for a Quidditch video game.  And then one came out and it sucked on a cock-flavored jellybean and nobody has breathed word of a better version since.  Sigh.  It also closed the door to other potential fairy tale inspired games, like Centaur Equestrian or Pixie Badminton.

Merball Tournament kind of reminded me of the Halo variation Grifball, only without the axes, swords, explosions, and fun.  You control a team of mermaids who race another team of mermaids through a maze to find a ball and bring it to the other team’s starting base.  If you’re holding the ball, there’s no way to defend yourself from having it stolen.  If someone on the other team gets close to you, they can just take it, at which point you’re left standing still, unable to move, as if your character is saying “bitch, what the fuck?

Good for you, bitch. What do you want? A fucking medal?

Without any form of defense, you’re left to just leg it, or flipper it or whatever the fuck you call the tail of a mermaid.  Merball Tournament does provide a useful map and radar, but in a way it kind of kills what should be the theoretical thrill of the game.  It’s the Doom principle, where the excitement comes from turning a corner only to run smack-dab into a cluster of enemies.  Merball is a game that’s set in a maze, yet everyone on both teams plus the location of the ball is clearly labeled.  The mazes aren’t randomly generated, so once you have one committed to memory, you should easily be able to figure out the best routes where you will never run into the opposing team.

Of course, any design choice I can complain about is irrelevant if the game is still fun.  Merball could have been, if the controls worked.  They don’t.  I had a sneaking suspicion the play control might be problematic when the trailer sent to me by the developer featured the character repeatedly swimming into walls.  I know I usually save the trailer for the very end of a review, but here I simply have to let you view it now.  Have a look.

It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?  The funny thing is, I handled the controls a lot better than this guy did.  Not significantly so, but I was able to avoid braining myself on the walls for the most part.  Still, your mermaid handles like the sea she lives in is the dumping ground of choice for unsold Jim Beam.  Maneuvering her up and down was also fairly difficult.  I spent most of the time clinging to the ceiling like I had just guzzled down a bottle of Willy Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drink.  Later stages have multi-leveled mazes.  Swimming upwards is no problem in these, but swimming down is unresponsive and feels kind of sticky.  Meanwhile, the AI is absolutely fucking brain-dead.  In a dozen or so rounds of Merball, only once did one of my teammates actually steal the ball from the other team.  Most of the time I saw them they were busy swimming into walls.

Overall, Merball Tournament feels like an unfinished prototype.  Perhaps the groundwork for something of merit is here, but the game is so far away from what it needs to be that I can’t in my right mind recommend it to anyone in its present state.  Conceptually, there’s nothing at all wrong with a game about a bunch of passive aggressive mermaids playing the most pussified form of Rugby the world has ever seen.  It just needs a lot of fine tuning.  I also hate to bring back this old chestnut but this was a game that could have really benefited from online multiplayer.  Considering how bad everything turned out here, maybe it’s absence is a blessing in disguise.  Regardless, Merball lacks the polish to be a worthwhile purchase and as far as I’m concerned it can go ahead and dissolve into sea-foam.  Yea, that’s how the Little Mermaid is supposed to end.  Up yours, Disney!

Merball Tournament was developed by Tarh Ik

80 Microsoft Points are up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun in the making of this review.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

4 Responses to Merball Tournament

  1. Starglider says:

    I really like the concept for this game, but unfortunately it seems to be somewhat beyond the developer’s ability to realise. In addition to the AI and control issues that you mention, it seems to lack any real sensation of being underwater. Better surface textures including caustics, volume fog, silt particles, sun rays and appropriate environmental sound effects would make a huge difference to the atmosphere; cell shading might also have worked well.

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