Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Ball

Fun game. It lacks the polish of a big-studio production, but it’s still a good game.



At the very start you’re given a device. Then you find the Ball. The device attracts the ball to you, or knocks it away. Like in Portal, your objective is to maneuver the ball (and yourself) around the game world. I thought it would be a burden, lugging this thing everywhere with me, but it wasn’t. It became my companion, my pet.

The ball is your friend. It is your pet. You’ll come to love the ball because you’ll use it for everything! It’s a platform to stand on. It’s a defensive shield. It clears the path. It opens doors. It’s your only means of offense. Everything in this civilization under the volcano revolves around the ball.

The architecture of the whole game reminds me of the Chizra levels from the original Unreal. The resemblance is striking and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’m playing a mod of that level. I expected to see a Slith pop out in the water levels. But it works pretty well. It creates a good atmosphere, and the music matches it flawlessly.

Now, complaints. The puzzles are too simple. A few had me scratching my head, but overall the developers didn’t use Ball-puzzling to its full potential. Most of the puzzles are too obvious. Everything you need to do to solve them is in the same room. They’re still fun and satisfying to solve, but they could have been more complex, and that’s what I was waiting for. More complexity. More level-long puzzles that require multiple steps spread out over multiple chambers to solve. But it never went beyond self-contained rooms. I don’t think their target audience was diehard puzzle-gamers, so this may have been intentional.

By and large the game is about puzzle-solving, which is good, but I liked the combat best. The ball is your only weapon, and it’s so cool to use it this way. Once you get good at manipulating the ball, you can do some pretty cool tricks with it. The most difficult puzzles involve using the ball in combat, especially in the last few levels. That was the step-up in difficulty I had been waiting for! The enemies that require clever manipulation of the ball to defeat. I wanted to do more of that! Action puzzles are seldom done right, but this game pulled it off very well. Give me more of those lizard guys!

Because there’s combat, there’s the potential for death. Sort of. Death works like the vitachmbers in Bioshock. When you die, you respawn at the closest checkpoint, but the game doesn’t reset. The puzzles, status of the enemies and bosses are still the same as when you died. What’s the point of death if there are no consequences? This is a growing trend in games these days and I’d rather it not catch on because it makes them too easy.

The game tries to have a story, but it’s sketchy at best. Really, the story is irrelevant. It’s a puzzle/action game, and everything in the world is contrived so it can be a puzzle/action game. There’s no real explanation for why this whole underground world can only be navigated by the ball. It’s stated that the world is a giant lock, keeping everyone inside, and the ball is the key that unlocks the world. But the ball is lying in this world for the player to find, so what stopped the inhabitants from taking the ball and guiding it to the factory themselves? Why is everything trying to stop the player from achieving this?

Ah, well, it’s all just an excuse to build a game around this type of puzzle. It could’ve been bigger and better, but what we have is quite good, lots of fun and challenging in its own right.

Support indie games!

http://www.theballthegame.com/
http://store.steampowered.com/app/35460/

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