Archive for January, 2011

The Ball: Review

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 11, 2011 by mashakosha

You find yourself underground in vast, dark ruins. Carvings and various inscriptions in an ancient language mark the walls. At your feet lies an item, lost for centuries and, once in your hands, allows you to control an item known only as The Ball. Though you haven’t done this before, it all feels strangely familiar. After about an hour, it clicks. “This is kind of like Portal.”

That’s the difficulty, you see. It is so very hard to say anything about The Ball without making some sort of reference to the popular first person puzzler. It is by no means an exact copy, and it’s obvious that Portal opened the door for first person puzzling and likely inspired The Ball as well. However, that familiarity is something that, once realised, is difficult to shake and that makes judging it on its own merits somewhat harder.

As already mentioned, The Ball takes place underground in massive, ancient caverns. These areas are beautiful to say the least, even if the copious amounts of brown everywhere is more than a little disappointing. But at least here it is actually necessary and it doesn’t feel completely out of place. Inexplicably lit torches line the walls, casting shadows a little creepily at times and once or twice it even has you wondering if that one shadow wasn’t a just a shadow at all. This is one of the things about The Ball that gets you the first time you play it.

The nature of the game is a strange one. You spend the first couple of levels rolling your Ball around merrily, solving some simple puzzles and occasionally smashing a cute little monkey to bloody pieces. But at the end of each level, it tells you how many monkeys and monsters you killed- hang on, monsters? Well I suppose each game needs its antagonists. So you continue, firing your Ball around, pulling it out of the water and using it as a counterweight in another seesaw puzzle. It’s quite a lot of fun.

Then you come across the monsters. It changes from a relatively slow-paced game into a frenetic ancient Aztec zombie-killing slaughterhouse. You shoot the ball off at a group of them only to realise that there’s another one above you, shooting fireballs at you and taking a significant amount of your health away with each hit. Your only protection in your precious Ball, but now it’s over the other side of the room, with an army of monsters between it and you. So you use your doohickey to pull it back towards you, but it travels far too slowly and before you can really do anything about it, you’re either killed by a mob of monsters, or by the almost impossible-to-avoid fireballs.

Thankfully, the checkpoints are well placed, so you’re never really too far from where you were before. This is helpful, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Ball itself is an extremely difficult-to-use weapon, and cumbersome at that. Often, you’ll find yourself stuck cowering behind the metal sphere, staring at the zombies crammed against the other side, leaving you the difficult choice of releasing the ball to power up your hammer weapon or making a break for the other side of the room and pray that there aren’t any more fireball monsters.

Assuming you manage to survive that encounter, the action will likely be broken up by a puzzle. Sometimes it’s not immediately obvious what you have to do, other times you’ll just be sat there wondering what the blazes you’re doing for far too long and yet other times you’ll think to yourself, “Why on earth did my character come down this far?”

See, that’s the other problem I have with The Ball. Your character is supposed to be a simple archaeologist and I’m sure you’re jumping out of your seats right now to tell me something like “Indiana Jones was an archaeologist too!” and yeah, I suppose so, but he had a gun, a whip and actually had a clue about what he was doing. As far as we know about our guy, he fell down a hole and the man up top said that they’d get him out soon. Okay, so he also told our man to explore a bit too, but curiosity will only make a man go so far. In his shoes, I wouldn’t have even touched the device he picks up at the start. Who knows what sort of trap it could have set off? I digress.

In the end, I’m not entirely sure what to think about The Ball. It’s a good, fun game and quite beautiful at times, but the combat feels so clunky that I’m wary of going back to it when I see it in my pile of games. I’m new at doing reviews, so I wont give it a score and instead leave it up to you to decide whether it’s worth buying or not. My personal opinion and advice to you though; wait for it to go on sale again.