You’re an archeologist, working near a volcano in Mexico, when, quite conveniently, you fall into some kind of ditch, and find yourself in an ungainly cave, that shows signs that it was/is inhabited by some kind of a civilization. Armed with just a single gun-like weapon to control the movements of a sacred-ish Ball, you are on your own to make your way through this dangerous cave, riddled with mind-racking puzzles and nerve-racking enemies… well the latter is not entirely true, but let’s get to that later.
The Ball is exactly like what it sounds to be- a game that is confused, whether to be an action game, or a puzzle game; a good game, or a bug-ridden game. And confused am I as well. The Ball provides for awesome moments that I will remember always in my life as a gamer, but it also throws at us some ungainly flaws that hinder it in its path to greatness. The Ball, with its Portal-esque approach at the First Person Puzzle genre, does a lot of great things with its puzzle solving sections, but stumbles during combat and other aspects, which keep it from being the great game it had the potential of being.
The Ball has some of the greatest puzzles I have ever come across in any game, and it is in these portions of the game when I am reminded of Valve’s masterpiece, Portal. Featuring similar, mind-racking puzzles that can force the player to give thought for almost hours and hours at length, somehow managing to never throw the same kind of puzzles at once, so that things remain fresh and entertaining, The Ball comes off as a huge surprise success in this department.
The puzzles are mainly based on controlling the movement of the aforementioned Ball, because we, as archeologists, have to get this object oh historic interest out of this cave for research. This said movement is done with the help of a magnetic gun-like weapon. This weapon is used to push and pull the ball, allowing us to use the ball as a platform is case we want to climb up a high ledge, or a bridge if we want to walk across a chasm.
The ball adds a layer of depth to the puzzles by attaining different forms throughout the game, making us think ever harder- should we let the ball through that puddle of oil? It might catch fire if it passes close to that lamp. Will this new coat of spikes on the ball help me get through this area? And so on. It always keeps throwing new things at you, offering different, deep, thoughtful puzzles. It is very clear how much hard work the developers have put into making the puzzles worth the buck we spend on the game.
The environments, though usually the same looking- bleak and dingy- can look really staggering at times, with good level of detail and attention paid to tiny little things. However, a lot of pixelization issues, blocky textures, irregular, cartoony animations and frame rate stutters keep it from being the graphical wonder the game should ideally have been. The sound department is also almost as inconsistent. Whereas the soundtrack is solid and adds to the level of atmosphere and adventure, the sound effects, are far off the mark- oftentimes it happened that the ball banged against a wall, and it sounded as if a hollow metal pipe was being banged against a marble tile- the ball’s collision should have a more “heavy” sound effect.
What the developers have not, however, worked on is the combat- something that is not even inconsistent, rather just plain boring.
The combat of the game is basically what makes the entire experience less worthwhile, and even manages to ruin a major part of the fun we get from the puzzles. All the enemies are dumb- they stand in a corner and throw fireballs at us, or try to look scary by running at us, screaming and then- they do nothing! They’re like that kid at Halloween who wears a Batman suits and thinks he’s The Phantom.
They’re very easy to kill, and other than that, they all look just the same (okay, I admit, they looked scary to me when I first saw them)- there’s only one enemy type you will come across in the entire game, and it can get really boring to see the same skeletal zombie-like creatures running up at you and doing nothing, looking at you with their hollow eyes. Fortunately, combat sections aren’t very frequently occurring in the short experience, so it is not exactly a game breaker.
The game does throw some boss battles at you sometimes. Surprisingly, they turned out to be quite fun and challenging- probably the only combat oriented thing I liked about the game.
The story of the game isn’t very remarkable either. It’s not good, it’s not even bad. It just is there- it’s a completely forgettable story, it’s mediocre. The fact that the cutscenes through which it is presented are poorly directed and somewhat suck doesn’t help. But I guess story doesn’t matter a lot in such a game, where the sheer fun getting through the puzzles keeps us moving forward.
Another thing that does not really please me about The Ball is its lasting appeal. The game can be dealt with in a short timespan of five or so hours, and there’s nothing much you want to do after that. There might be a select few who come back to the game for the puzzles, but the bad aspects of the game leave a somewhat bad taste in your mouth, so even if you do come back to the game for another playthrough solely for the positive aspects of the game, you will most probably leave it halfway through.
Then there are unlockable modes which are basically combat oriented, so those who have problems with the combat in the campaign might want to stay away.
So ultimately, how good is The Ball? Simply put- it’s good. It’s a fun experience that should not be missed by those who like solving crazy yet enjoyable puzzles, especially the Portal fans. While it does not have the finesse of Portal, and has a lot of negative aspects, it manages to come across as an enjoyable experience, and the puzzles definitely make it worth a rent, if not a purchase.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Great puzzle design, can get immensely fun; Well thought-out level structures; Environments can look really well sometimes; Solid sound score
Enemies are boring and dumb; Combat is bland; Game is too short, only 5 or so hours long; Story is not very impressive, and neither is it very well told; Unpolished sound effects