It's beginning to seem like Nitrome's increased involvement with Miniclip is a really great thing. New game content is being released at break-neck speed compared to other developers, with a new title launched every couple weeks or so. Unveiled yesterday, Mallet Mania is Nitrome's newest production, a Marble Madness-type puzzle game. By using what appears to be a wireframe croquet mallet, you whack your ball with varying direction and power to guide it through maze-like levels to the goal. Stating the obvious but still worth noting, Nitrome once again stays with its tried-and-true pixel graphics and vibrant color scheme.
The first thing you'll notice about Mallet Mania is that it's tough. In part, it's because of the gameplay rules (explained later), but more than anything it takes time getting used to the control mechanic. Theoretically, it couldn't be simpler; you just use the mouse to aim the mallet 360 degrees around the ball. Once you've lined up your shot, press and hold the mouse button and you'll be able to move the mallet up and down, from zero to 100 percent power. Just release the mouse button and the mallet will hit the ball, sending it rolling in the direction you chose. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it sounds. The small, standardized screen dimensions that Nitrome uses in this game (and all others) doesn't lend itself to easy, accurate mouse-aiming. You might find it frustrating trying to fine-tune the direction and power in such a limited controllable area.
Other than the touchy controls, it's a pretty nifty little game seemingly derived from modern "marble" genre games like Contour, Super Monkey Ball and even the popular 3D hit, Switchball. But Mallet Mania doesn't just offer a slew of sloping levels to guide your ball from generic points "A" to "B". There are plenty of unique obstacles and traps to avoid, many of which you'll have to interact with. Lots of different "tiles" you'll encounter have effects like sticky glue, magnets that repel your ball, spinner tiles that rotate and many more. The traps and objects also add a fun element to the game; anvils trying to squish you, conveyor belts carrying you away, teleportation tiles...there are even tiles that you can't cross, or ones that require special abilities to traverse. These elements greatly support the puzzle aspect of the game, adding an increased incentive to replay.
Analysis: Mallet Mania features 18 single-player levels, all of which can also be played in multiplayer mode with up to four people (offline, on the same computer). Three bonus "arena" levels let you square off against your friends (or yourself, if you don't have any) in player vs. player "combat." That's right, you can knock another player's ball off the level's edge, or into a trap!
As if the touchy mouse control doesn't make this game tricky enough, each level has a par, or "shots left." You only have a certain number of shots to use before you fail the level and restart. Unless Nitrome can make the control system a little more user-friendly, the par of each level should be increased to compensate. But if you've got a knack for these types of games (and a lot of patience), you might enjoy the challenge. Either way, it's another solid effort from Nitrome, renewing faith that the company will continue to release unique, fun games with broad appeal.
Cheers to Alex, Rosie, and Paulina for sending this one in! =)