Regular readers may remember the absent-minded Professor Fizzwizzle, the titular character of Grubby Games's previous outing. In that game he accidentally set his FriendBots to "Rage" mode, and the player's task was to guide him back to his lab so he could fix them. Fizzwizzle and his FriendBots are getting on very well again, and out on safari on a group of islands. While they are out they notice something very strange - all the people have gone missing, and the animals are all hungry with no-one to feed them. The professor immediately has the answer - gather up all the animals and bring them to his animal sanctuary, where they can be kept safe and fed. And to do this, he'll use his latest invention - the Fizzball!
Thus begins a game which is loosely based on Arkanoid - a fizzball starts out small but gets bigger as it collects things and is able to smash through all manner of crates, barrels, fences and so on. Keep the fizzball in play by bouncing it off your "paddle" at the foot of the screen. The professor has a limited number of Fizzballs on him and if you lose them all, it's game over. In order to gather the animals you will need to grow the fizzball first, which means collecting small things, like apples, acorns and pinecones.
Fizzball is controlled almost entirely by mouse, except for a few keys that (for instance) pause the game - and you'll need to enter your name when setting up a profile unless you are happy being called "Player 1". The mouse moves Fizzwizzle's paddle along the track at the bottom of the screen, the left button launches a fizzball and fires the destruct-o-ray powerup, and the right button operates the fans. Yes, fans! You can blow the fizzball around as well, though fan power is limited and takes time to recharge.
Along the way there are powerups aplenty - the usual ones to shrink/widen the paddle, speed up or slow down the ball and the occasional extra fizzball. There is also a bulldozer option (which makes the ball smash through crates and barrels instead of bouncing off them), the gravity ball (which sucks nearby animals, coins and objects towards it), the destruct-o-ray (two shots that blast objects apart), a bigger ball powerup, wacky weather (it's raining acorns!) and the super fans (which allow unlimited fan use for thirty seconds). There are also score multipliers, bags of money and a crash barrier that prevents the fizzball being lost.
Ah yes, money. While the main story is concerned with rescuing animals and finding out what has been going on, you have a secondary mission - the collection of money (both as coins scattered about the levels and as bags of money released as bonus pickups). You will need some money for ferry crossings between islands but you will also need some for the animal sanctuary. All the animals you rescue are kept here and they need to eat - so any spare cash you have at the end of your game is added to the animal hunger fund. This is such a wonderful bonus to the game - hover the mouse over the animals in the sanctuary and they react! - and even I can't help playing another game every so often to keep them fed.
Graphically, Fizzball is superb. The graphics are, amazingly, an improvement on Professor Fizzwizzle and everything reacts to the fizzball. Trees shake, boxes splinter, animals too big to be collected are startled. Sometimes animals wander about the level when left alone too long! The right hand edge of the screen is a status bar, which even details the last animal collected (and its name!). If one or two animals are left and you don't collect them within a reasonable time, a big arrow labelled "Animal!" points it out (useful for ones hidden behind objects or in trees, and very good for younger children). The background features weather effects (which, if your computer performance is low, can be optionally turned off).
Sound is also superb. A variety of happy tunes accompany the levels, with different menu screen music and simple background sound for the animal sanctuary. And the music turns dramatic when Fizzwizzle goes into battle against the... oh, that would be telling! Animals all have their own sound effects, there's a range of smashing noises for the fizzball and money goes "clink" when collected. And more besides! Yet despite the range of sound effects the game never tips into becoming excessively noisy.
Fizzball is immensely playable. It's aimed at both children and adults - for the younger players there are optional questions between rounds for bonus points ("which animal makes this noise?" for instance) and you can activate a permanent crash barrier for children who lack great mouse control - so they can play as long as they like without losing all their lives. This is simply brilliant. The biggest complaint I have here is that the fizzball is very small at the start of each level and can sometimes become hard to spot, but otherwise all has been thought of - you can replay previous levels (a good way to earn more cash for the ferry) at the risk of losing fizzballs, but you can't collect any more butterflies in the process (fifty butterflies net you an extra fizzball). There are bonus trails you can follow or skip, you can retry any level you weren't happy with and you can start a new game from any point you've reached, even without finishing the old one.
It is virtually impossible to pick up on any faults in Fizzball. Ball stuck behind a tree? If it doesn't get unstuck after a certain length of time, it'll simply be returned to the paddle. Time limits? There are bonuses for completing levels quickly, but feel free to take hours if you have to. It comes to something when the biggest complaint came from my Jon, who noticed the rather odd distribution of new animals (half of them in the first couple of islands, the last islands having about five new animals and all being discovered well before the end of the story) and asked why there was no giraffe. To be fair, Grubby Games did consider a giraffe and didn't think it would fit in the fizzball properly - as they explained when I mentioned this to them!
This is the nearest I've seen to a perfect game in perhaps my entire time at Bytten. Easy to learn, fun to play, endearing... and addictive. Very, very addictive. Whether you have children or not you won't regret buying it, though you may wonder where all your free time has gone. I know I did.
Keywords: fizzball review, grubby games reviews, grubby games games, fizzball scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.