Caromble! from Crimson Owl Studios is a paddle ball kind of game, with physics, special techniques, and challenge maps. Taking on the role of a rocket powered paddlebot with a serious vendetta against every breakable prop nearby, you bounce a sphere around an arena full of targets in need of involuntary disassembly. If you can send the ball careening into things enough, they’ll dent up and eventually break. There is much more to do than just smash bricks, though. Your paddle needs to release energy pickups that fall out of the wreckage, and these will add up to open a vortex to the next stage. Using special moves like the charge up shot will produce even more valuable energy, which can be nabbed to increase your score. After breaking sufficient debris and feeding it enough energy, you’ll have to angle your ball into the portal before proceeding.
It sounds a lot like something you might have seen in the days of video gaming yore, perhaps decorating a pizza parlor or bowling alley. Right, it’s similar to Breakout or Arkanoid, but Caromble! has much more to offer than these early era predecessors. Special tactics and abilities set Caromble! apart from its ancestors, like the capability to charge up your paddle to send the ball rocketing forward to shatter anything in the way, the ability to ‘spin’ the ball by catching it while the paddle is in motion, a slow-mo ‘focus’ that takes some pressure off the fast-paced gameplay, and even more. You’ll also need to make use of various power ups and power downs, some of which are rare and amusing, like the pixelation one which turns the whole screen into a mosaic filter for a moment. The best thing you can hope for is an extra life, which makes a big difference when trying to reach the end of a stage.
Stages consist of multiple arenas, first focusing on powering up a portal to send your ball through, then finally on a ‘boss’ sort of encounter. In those stages, you’ll start with the regular destroying objects, but instead of capping it off with the vortex entry, you’ll usually face off with a sort of monster, who needs a good bouncing-off-of to be defeated. Physics bounce your targets around the 3D environment, creating unpredictable hazards and opportunities. in levels that have tall structures, knocking out the lower supports can start a collapse that scatters obstacles across half the arena. It’s pretty satisfying, in that destructive sort of way.
Later levels begin to incorporate timed doors and other contrivances, which really test your aim and competence. It’s sort of like the windmill at the end of a minigolf course, things get weird when stuff starts moving on its own. Even ramps, jumps, and explosions start to play a role. As long as you can keep your ball out front, you’ll be okay, but hitting all the right stuff on purpose is going to take practice. If you need that practice, a series of skill tests are available to try your ability against some challenge or other. You’ll have to unlock them though, so there’s no substitute for just diving into the main game.
Caromble! looks pretty good, and the physics are exuberant enough to surprise you sometimes. The art style is almost cell shaded, with heavy outlines, and the effects are well employed, not overdone or excessive. The music and sound work isn’t especially impressive, but incorporates itself well enough that you don’t notice it, but I mean that in a good way. Each map has backgrounds that make it feel like you’re in a world, rather than an abstract arena for the sole purpose of the game. Everything works well and behaves predictably, within the physics engine. The controls are simple, but don’t have very much to control, really. The need for more and more accurate control is the core of the gameplay, so developing that skill is the main thing you’ll have to focus on. The inputs are accurate, and each control scheme allows for a more fine-tuned movement to slow down the paddle.
There’s no kind of vibration or problems with getting the paddle where you want it to go, but doing what you want to do is difficult in and of itself. I did find myself sometimes spinning the ball backwards on accident, sending it out of my reach and into the gutter. This happened more than a few times, and in an unforgiving game it can be pretty frustrating. And unforgiving, Caromble! is. If you can’t hold out through all three stages, you’ll be sent back to the start. Given the few lives one begins with and the rarity of freebies during play, getting a ball spun into your gutter accidentally is a head-smacking irritation.
Caromble! is a good game. It’s a hard game, but well put-together. I wasn’t able to master it, or even come close. The limit on lives and rarity of extras means you have about one ball per arena worth of wiggle-room before you’ll be sent back to the start. I was never a Breakout fan, so maybe there’s a lack of background experience, but the game demands a lot from its player. If you want that kind of challenge, or believe you’re up to snuff, give it a try. It’s not some exciting military storyline or freeroaming Nordic adventure, but Caromble! does what its meant to do, does it well, and can still honor it’s ancestors with the best of them.
Caromble! was previewed on Steam via Early Access using a code provided by the developer.
Builds well upon the tradition it takes part in. Difficult, but fun in it's execution.