The One Hit Wonders of Game Design Part five: Odama

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

You have to give Nintendo a hand, whenever enough criticism about them not creating original properties builds up enough; they go out of their way to release something completely out of left field. On the GameCube, there was Pikmin, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and today’s game: Odama.

Odama was a real time strategy pinball game set in feudal Japan… yes you read that right. Your mission is to take back Japan using the way of Ninten-do (I did not make that up) and a giant magical boulder called an Odama. The gameplay consists of you using flippers to launch the Odama around the map, hitting important encampments and wiping out enemy troops. The game also came with a microphone attachment for the GameCube controller that allowed you to give basic commands to your army.

Each level required you to move your troops from the bottom of the map to the top while the enemy army and fortifications were standing the way. By hitting triggers on the map, you could open up paths for your army or weaken the enemy army, which were required on the later levels. Eventually you’ll come to boss stages where you’ll have to deal with a monster, using a combination of the Odama and your army.

Odama definitely had a lot going for it in the originality department, but there were several major problems with the design. First as it turns out, a pinball does not make a suitable battlefield commander. There are plenty of situations where you want the Odama to hit an enemy army, or strike something to protect your army, but the physics prevented you from having that degree of control. Which on one hand is normal for a pinball game, but on the other hand, a regular pinball game doesn’t require you to manage an army at the same time.

But the killer for Odama was how the difficulty of the game was set up. As mentioned you need to get your army from one end of the map to the other to win the map and if you run out of troops the game is over. What makes things frustrating is that your troop total persisted across the levels. Due to the unpredictable pinball physics, one level could end with very little troop lost, and the next you could lose half your army.

To make things worse, replaying an earlier level to see if you could do better removes your progress. For example: Let’s say I’m on map 6 and decide to replay map 3 which I did horribly on. Once I start map 3 my progress on maps 4 and 5 are erased. As you can guess, this can lead to an annoying cycle of replaying one map to then having to repeat the other maps if the pinball gods aren’t smiling on you.

Odama is one of those games where foresight or a sequel to refine the mechanics could have created a new franchise for Nintendo. But for now, it remains on the very small list of Nintendo first party clunkers.

Josh Bycer

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