theuselessgod's The Ball (PC) review

Fantastic ideas marred by droll execution.

The Short

Pros

- Interesting puzzle mechanic that reminded me of Portal

- Use a magic gun to control a large ball through a variety of puzzles and combat situations

- Looks really good and has a cool visual style

- Exploration is enjoyable and you see some neat environments

- Really has a lot of neat ideas

Cons

- Despite its uniqueness, no one part of this game feels polished

- Puzzles are usually pretty bland, with even the new elements they added not being utilized to their full potential

- On that same note, combat with the ball seems tacked on, and is usually more frustrating than fun

- Game is short, but feels longer than it should

- Story is stupid, for what little there is

- Load times can be a bit long

- Feels like it was a great start with wasted potential

Spoiler: There is a Ball in this game

The LongI love little puzzle games, especially ones that do something unique. Portal turned everything on its head by offering a clever story, brilliant puzzles, and a different perspective than that normally used in puzzle games (first-person) to carve a unique niche for itself. The Ball seems to be trying to attempt the same thing, using a simple mechanic (use a magic gun to pull or push a giant iron ball around) with varying situations to provide a new, unique puzzling experience.

And it comes so close to almost working it hurts. But, unfortunately, The Ball falls short on many points.

Why would a magic, ball-controlling gun have a giant skull on the back? Sadly, this plot element is never addressed.

The story is nonexistent. You are an archaeologist who falls down a deep hole while your crew is digging. Rather than wait and see if your friends could get you out, you decide to explore and stumble upon this magic gun and giant ball. You decide it would be brilliant to go squish things with it rather than, I dunno, get out, so you move forward solving puzzles built around the ball mechanic and fighting enemies until you get free. It's basic stuff, but something could have been put in here to help push it forward. Even crappy one-liners from the hero "I've got balls of steel!" would have made the ride more interesting. Instead you get a ball, some puzzles, and then it ends.

The Ball's mechanics are actually pretty clever. You have two options: you can push or pull the Ball from any location, through walls, or whatever. You can also charge up a push to shoot it forward with a burst, helping it make jumps or squish guys or whatever. A meter in the corner says how far away and what direction the Ball is relative to you, meaning you'll never lose it. These are the fundamental control mechanics, and they never change.

What a surprise, a giant metal ball doesn't float.

The Ball is at the center of everything you do in this game. All puzzles rotate around either having it ram something, be put into a groove and spun around to power something, or be put on a button. As the game progresses it adds more things like oil you can dip the ball in to create fire trails, and other such things. Unfortunately it doesn't really maximize it's potential. Most puzzles are easy and even a bit boring, the biggest challenge simply being to get the damn Ball to do what you want it to do. They never utilize the new mechanics they introduce in any ways other than the most basic, meaning there's never any truly exciting moments or times when you feel satisfied by beating a particularly hard puzzle. It's a decent concept, but the execution is stale.The same goes for the bland combat. Since you have no weapons, your way of killing stuff is just squishing it with the Ball (which is also how this game earned its "M" rating). It's stupidly bloody and sort of pointless, and while I'll admit there's a satisfaction to running some guys over with a giant metal orb, the finicky Ball controls make combat more frustrating than fun. It also never really utilizes the Ball's uniqueness to create exciting or interesting enemies or bosses. Just squish em. Done.

This civilization must have been unable to function unless they hauled massive balls around everywhere.

This game looks really good graphically, pulling no stops on the Unreal 3 engine, though it does have that annoying texture pop-in that comes with it. The art style is pleasing throughout, though it could have mixed some of it up more. the whole "skull on the back of the gun" just makes this game seem like it's trying too hard for it's "M" rating, when it really would have probably worked better trying to be clever and silly instead of violent and HARDCORE. As it stands, however, this is one hell of a good looking indie game, as the screenshots are showing.

See you, space ball.

Despite my massive number of complaints, I actually really enjoyed playing The Ball. The challenge mode where you fight waves of enemies might be fun for some, but seeing as I thought the combat was stupid I didn't really dig very deep anyway. The puzzles are decent and it's a short experience, so just when you are getting tired of it it ends, which is nice. But I couldn't get over the fact that this game seemed to have no ambition. It's like it burned all its ideas on the initial mechanic and the graphics, and then sleepwalked through the rest of the game. If they were to make a sequel where the utilized the fantastic ideas they had here with more unique puzzles, a sharp script, and more refined Ball controls, I could see it becoming a fan-favorite much like Portal. But as it stands, The Ball just doesn't try hard enough with what is most important, and so it provides a decent experience, but one that should have been much better.

Still, I got it for $5 on Onlive, and then bought it again in an indie bundle for Steam, so there's something for it there. If you liked Portal, you should absolutely check this one out when it drops to a $5 price tag, if only because the mechanic is cool and it still provides some genuine entertainment.

Three out of five stars.

To use the worst Duke Nukem Forever quote: "I've got balls of fail!"

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

0 Comments

Other reviews for The Ball (PC)

    What Is The Ball? 0

    Good goddamn question.  Is it a first person shooter, a sci-fi plot-heavy game, or a puzzler?  The user interface is set up in more or less a traditional first person shooter style, but that's not really what it is.  Yes, there are enemies, but only a handful of different types, and you can go long stretches of the game without encountering any.  And yes, you will have a weapon, but just the one, and it's really more of a means to controlling the ball than it is specifically designed for combat....

    1 out of 1 found this review helpful.

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