Gobbowl Review: An expertly mixed cocktail of sports and strategy
Mixing video game genres is a lot like mixing drinks. You can work with a successfully established mixture like orange juice with vodka or RPG with shooter and likely come out with a hit, but you won’t surprise anyone. You’re just fueling the debate on how much of each ingredient should be used. Party creepers prefer to sneak more vodka in than the accepted amount and the dolt in the backwards baseball cap doesn’t want numbers getting in the way of his n00b pwning (please excuse my 1337).
You’re other option is to try something new which can be dangerous or delicious. Get that apple brandy out of the freezer and try mixing it with a melted Orange Julius you picked up at the mall for nostalgia only to realize your body can’t handle that much sugar anymore. Or you can go nuts and mix up a sports game with turn-based, hex-tile gameplay.
That’s what the folks at Ankama Games did and they called it Gobbowl.
In case you haven’t checked out our previous coverage, Gobbowl is a free to play, tactical turn-based sports MMO from Ankama Games. If you’ve played any of their other games like Dofus, you’ll recognise their iconic world immediately. Your goal is simple. Pick a team (or create your own if you don’t mind paying for it) and kill some time facing off against other players in matches of varying rules and turn limits. There’s no leveling system or any other sense of progression, but there are tournaments with reasonable entry fees that one can compete in for a chance at leader board glory.
The game itself seems shallow on the surface, but increases in-depth as you learn more about it. Teams consist of ten players, five of which will be involved in each play. The actual game is easiest to compare to football with players attempting to carry the ball to the opposing team’s goal for a touchdown. Every time a goal is scored, you can swap out players in order to change up your strategy or give injured teammates a break. For each turn both human players will give orders to each teammate on their team simultaneously without being able to see what their opponent is up to. Once orders are established, a brief animated sequence plays out based on player orders and their own abilities.
Player abilities are governed by stats relating to four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. Fire covers interceptions and dodging attacks, air is for passing/receiving, water is for sprinting, and earth determines fighting ability. Players can be given up to three orders per turn and given a path to follow. For example, when I start with the ball I often give it to Twilight Sparkle, my best thrower, and give her three air orders to pass the ball to Rainbow Dash, whom I’ve given one air order to so she’ll catch it and two sprinting orders so she can make a mad dash for the goal. Meanwhile I have Applejack lead my three blockers in a charge at the opposing players to protect their squishy teammates.
There are currently 14 classes of players available that offer variations on the four basic player types: blockers, outfielders, sprinters, and throwers. Sadida, for example, is technically a sprinting type class, but they sacrifice a small amount of their speed for decent fighting ability. Since your team is limited to ten players and no more than three of any type, you’re forced to create a balanced team that can’t excel on all fronts. I was given one free opportunity to create my own team for my review, so I made sure team Friendship is Magic focused on power and speed with three blockers, two throwers, two outfielders, and three sprinters. On top of that, each class has an ability they can use once per game. These are mostly used to increase the skills of your teammates while decreasing those of your opponents.
Confused? It’s best to learn by doing, especially since the game’s tutorial seems somewhat incomplete. However, once you’ve gotten the hang of it you can look forward to a personally rewarding experience. Since there’s no level progression, only your personal skill increases as you learn from your mistakes to develop new and devious strategies. Not being a sports fan myself, I’m genuinely flabbergasted by how much I enjoy being a coach. It’s also pretty hilarious that I find myself screaming, “Damn it, Fluttershy! You were supposed to catch the ball! One more display of incompetence like that and I’m replacing you with a different character from a cartoon for little girls!”
Since your main involvement with the game is simply clicking and dragging, it’s nice that the game has such pretty and imaginative visuals. Ankama’s unique fantasy world lends itself quite well to a sports setting. It’s a lot of fun watching each turn unfold as players carry out your strategies, especially when two players collide with opposing stat types. When this happens you’re treated to an anime-inspired sequence that demonstrates which player prevails. It never gets old watching a blocker send an outfielder flying over his shoulder with a light Wilhelm scream for added silliness. It’s also refreshing to see such a colorful game after emerging from the wonderful, yet dark and dreary look of 90% of the games I’ve played over the last few months.
Going back to the comparison to mixed drinks, Gobbowl takes exactly what it needs from the ingredients used to create it. It takes the strategy and “I’m the fucking coach!” feel of sports games, but replaces the boring stadium and boring human players with forests and beaches and bear people and fairies. It also borrows the mechanics of an RPG without drowning a casual player in the stresses of the perfect character build in order to compete with more hardcore players.
I have a lot of good things to say about Gobbowl, but it isn’t without its problems. I currently have 22 wins and 13 losses on my record. I’d say about 60% of those wins involved me scoring a goal in the first three turns of a 15-turn game only to have my opponent immediately quit. The staggering amount of rage quitting demands some kind of punishment system like those used in recent Halo games. On the other hand, I’d say at two or three of my losses involved me conceding defeat when my opponent scored a tie-breaking goal on turn 14 out of 15. This means we both must assign new players to the field and play one turn. It is physically impossible to score a goal in one turn.
There’s room for improvement, but overall I’d say Gobbowl is worth your time even if you don’t want to spend any money. In lieu of an arbitrary numerical score, I give this game a you should try it out of my user name is EN-GOB-03 let’s play some time.