And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... Squirtdevil -- The Madballs wannabes that squirt water in your face! by: Wes

Ever since news of the Madballs revival hit the Internet in 2006, I've admittedly been less than exceedingly optimistic about their chances for widespread success in today's culture. Oh, it's undeniable that I love those gross 'n' obnoxious little spheres to rot, but toy aisles are pretty darned competitive these days. (I don't even think I understood just how competitive they are until I bought a few Power Rangers figures last year -- these things are bloody awesome, and $7 is a great value when comparable action figures are going for $10+.) The fact that I haven't really seen Madballs product shelved in force since the 2007 holiday season hasn't exactly instilled me with confidence either. I received a preview of the Series 2 Madballs in February 2008 -- thanks again, Basic Fun! -- and was expecting to see them released in earnest by the fall, but it's now January 2009 and I've still only seen a few of the Sick Series 'balls in novelty stores like Spencer's and Hot Topic. I want to buy another regular Dust Brain so I can give it lips and fake eyelashes, darnit! The standard Series 2 Madballs do appear to be available on eBay, though -- as well as on the Basic Fun website -- so maybe distribution in my area just sucks. (Given my impressive lack of success finding other figures, like most of the Marvel Legends Ares Wave and any of DC Universe Classics Wave 5, that probably has something to do with it.)

Behold: the Squirtdevil crew!

So even as the 'balls branched out to Target exclusive sticker sets and greeting cards and even t-shirts at Hot Topic, I continued to worry about their fate. And then, on Black Friday at a disturbingly cluttered Dollar Tree in the middle of nowhere, I encountered these bad boys. I hesitated to write about them, since that D-Tree had scores of old product and it was entirely possible that these were forgotten relics from years ago, but when they showed up at my local D-Tree several weeks later I was genuinely excited. BONA-FIDE KNOCKOFF MADBALLS!!!! When someone sees fit to knock off the 'balls -- and keeping in mind that the Madballs' heyday saw Madballs wannabes of varying product types (regular balls, key chains, marbles, hackeysacks, you name it) flooding the register areas of all manner of shopping establishments -- it's an encouraging sign.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Squirtdevil's noses are all up in the Madballs'... orifices.These latest Madballs knockoffs go by the name of Squirtdevil, and -- as seen in the image to the right -- their inspiration is clear from just one look at the packaging. But why settle for just one look? Also, note that throughout the article I'll be referring to them both individually and collectively as Squirtdevil. The name appears in the same place as Madballs on the cards, and there are clearly more than one Squirtdevil (unless they're actually different forms of the same character, which would actually explain a lot), so I've assumed that "Squirtdevil" is a special noun that has identical singular and plural forms. You know, like "sheep," "bison," and "trout." Yes.

So in addition to cribbing the red-orange to greenish-yellow gradient of the primary text and adopting a similar swirling background graphic, the Squirtdevil creators have christened the toys with a fake series: the Horrible Series. This is a nice touch -- and leads one to wonder if it will be followed by an Awful Series and a Dreadful Series -- though it would have been far more convincing if they'd followed through with an actual series roster on the back of the card. How are we supposed to keep track of each series in the absence of that info? (Note that if this series consists of only one Squirtdevil -- whose name, I suppose, would be Horrible -- this problem would no longer exist. Hmmm.) And then there's an additional graphic that blatantly recalls the Sick Series Madballs' demonstration pictures! The image is totally wrong -- Squirtdevil only have one hole, so they'd shoot in a single stream rather than spraying water from multiple pores -- but when has knockoff packaging ever concerned itself with accuracy? (If you cited the Transformatrix Optimus Prime's cardback in response to that question, give yourself seven bonus points.) Really, the only things that the knockoff package creators haven't copied are the tightness of the plastic bubbles (Madballs are held firm, but Squirtdevil wobble freely), the presentation of the character names (which the Squirtdevil lack, unless they're all Horrible), and the warning text (so if your kid chokes on a Squirtdevil, you totally have grounds for a lawsuit). Oh, but they did toss in little fire thingies all over the cards! I guess the Squirtdevil are supposed to extinguish the flames.

Official Slobulus Madballs flanking their squirtier, devilish cousin.Knockoff Bash Brain? Maybe with better paint...

Once you get down to comparing the actual products, however, the Squirtdevil's similarities to the Madballs aren't quite so pronounced. Yes, they're ugly balls. The green one does indeed recall Slobulus given his color and the dislodged right eye, and the reddish-pink one brings to mind the 2007 update of Crack Head Bash Brain -- if only because of the color, the exposed brain, the yellow eyes of differing size, and certain details like the blue stitching across the nose. However, this is arguably a bit of a stretch. Note that, while the lackluster paint jobs do their darnedest to hide the fact, every single one of the Squirtdevil has some portion of its brain exposed. If the reddish-pink Squirtdevil is guilty of copying Bash Brain's claim to fame, they all are.

These rotten apples didn't fall far from the tree.

The Squirtdevil even copy details among themselves, which is why I haven't bothered to give each one a unique name. The blue one does have a red gemstone thingy sticking out of his brain that none of the others have, but his other more prominent features -- the worm/gash above one eye and the screw embedded in the side of his skull -- are respectively copied by the green one and the purple one. Every Squirtdevil has one eye that's larger than the other, and the eye color of each is shared by another. The reddish-pink one is unique in that he lacks the green slime of his (or her?) brethren, but he does have something sticking out of his cheekbones and running down the right side of his face. Are these bony ridges, discolored scars, or globs of pus? And while the green one would be notable for his dangling right eyeball, that feature is obviously stolen from Slobulus. If I wanted to give each Squirtdevil a unique name, I'd have to resort to naming them based on the color of their skin... and even though they're just dollar store toys, we all know that would be wrong.

Still, I guess I can give the green and reddish-pink ones sole ownership of their squirting orifices, since they're the only Squirtdevil of the Horrible Series to respectively spray from the nostril and mouth. What do you think of the names Ianasal Drip and Helliot Spit-zer? The blue and purple ones, however, both shoot from their right eyeballs... or at least they do in theory. I haven't actually filled them up with water, so I can't vouch for I guess those Botox treatments won't take.their ability to squirt it. But I can state that they are fully capable of spraying soft plastic-scented air!

The purple Squirtdevil is my favorite, if only because he reminds me of the Face of Boe. I'm not really sure why I get this impression from him -- perhaps it's the one squinty eye and the large, pouty lips? -- but I bought a second one that I may eventually paint a uniform tan and place in a mayonnaise jar among my Doctor Who figures. I also purchased a second "Slobulus" for a future repainting project. If I'm able to make him look half as good as they did in the package graphic, I'll be quite pleased.

Anyway, despite the lacking paint, inferior designs, and other shortcomings that clearly designate the Squirtdevil as cheap Madballs pretenders, I'm sure that kids with thrifty parents will get a kick out of them. In fact, they're arguably preferable to Madballs for actual play, since they're not going to tear apart or incur any noticeable damage unless one actively cuts them. (Not that kids necessarily care about flaking paint and foam gashes on their Madballs, but I sure do!) Granted, Squirtdevil would be a lot more fun in the summer -- kids spraying each other with water during this most frigid time of year are likely to bring extreme discomfort and possibly illness upon themselves -- but that's what happens when knockoffs are released to take advantage of the holiday season! As gruesome stocking stuffers, Squirtdevil would have been difficult to top.

-- Wes --
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