I love my ball. My ball is big and round and shiny. It grumbles loudly when I roll it along the ground, and it has mystical powers. There’s no ball like my ball. The $20 indie game from Teotl Studios, The Ball, isn’t as good. I mean, I do like it. After all, without The Ball, I wouldn’t be able to play with my ball. But The Ball does have some problems while my ball is perfect.
I found my ball in The Ball after stumbling into the ruins of an ancient and advanced civilization hidden underneath a volcano. I have been attached to some weapons before. There have been swords that crackle with lightning and drain health, shotguns that turn baddies into meaty chunks, and rays that shrink aliens. But none of these compare to my ball.
Using an ancient weapon, I can hammer and pull my ball in any direction. Mostly, I use it to solve puzzles, to progress through the remains of this civilization in the hopes of finding a way out. I use it to smash through barriers, push buttons, and reach greater heights. I can tie it to a block in order to move that block, and I can coat it in oil and light it on fire. Using my ball as a match is interesting, but using it as an anti-gravity machine is ridiculous fun. I can charge it up, roll it near a tall cliff, and then jump about ten-times higher than normal to reach the top of the cliff. Fun.
My ball is also my means of defense. I use it as a shield against arrows that fly out of holes in the walls and as a weapon to crush crazed, flesh-eating mummies that are littered throughout the ruins. My ball is a weaponized yo-yo – I launch it to crush a few mummies, bring it back, and then launch it again to crush some more. It is also an anti-personnel mine. I can magnetize my ball to draw metal spikes to it and then send those spikes flying in all directions with the push of a button. Useful for taking out lots of mummies, but it hurts me too.
My ball is a bulldozer, toolbox, Swiss Army knife, WMD, and bullet. But it is even more than all that; it is my eyes and ears and hands. It’s my lifeline, my connection to this ancient Aztec world – which is why it is so jarring when I’m without it. I feel naked and alone during those few moments when I have to temporarily leave my ball to progress. And nothing’s scarier, not even those crazed mummies, than super-charged magnets that rip my ball away from me. I really don’t like those magnets. Thankfully, when I disable them, my ball always rolls back to me – like a good puppy. Yes, I love my ball.
Unfortunately, The Ball doesn’t give me enough time to play with my ball. That’s not a criticism of the game’s length – the campaign lasts about 6 hours – but a criticism of the pace. The game starts off slow. There’s a lot of initial handholding as Teotl methodically introduces you to each mechanic of the ball. These mechanics are creative and interesting, but little thought is required through the early and mid portions of the game because of this handholding. And if a puzzle game isn’t thought provoking, what is it?
It isn’t until the halfway point that the developers take the training wheels off and the puzzles become complex and challenging and the game realizes its full potential. But because of its late start, The Ball ends abruptly. Kane & Lynch 2, a game that only lasted me 3.6 hours, feels more complete. Pacing is important, and The Ball’s introduction is overly long.
This is also reflected in the game’s combat. Rolling the ball over mummies, as if they’re bowling pins, is initially exhilarating. But the thrill quickly wears off with repetition. The initial combat also feels very disconnected from the core puzzle solving of the game – there’s nothing puzzling about launching a giant ball at your enemies. After a few cycles of solving puzzles, crushing mummies, solving more puzzles, and crushing more mummies, I found myself annoyed with the mummies. Every time I saw one, I just wanted to move onto the next puzzle.
Again, it isn’t until the halfway point that you meet larger, scarier creatures that require some thought to take on, that combat becomes puzzling in itself and feels more connected with the rest of the game. The Ball just takes too long to really get started. Once it does, however, its combat is exciting and its puzzles are satisfying – it’s immensely fun. Like I said, I love my ball.
Outside of the pacing issues, The Ball is a very good-looking game, especially at its price point. You get to travel through a handful of unique and highly detailed environments, and the shininess of Unreal Engine 3 is on full display throughout. The luminescent water is particularly striking.
But really, The Ball is all about the ball. I love my ball, but The Ball has some issues. Which is to say, The Ball has an innovative and fun core that is undoubtedly worth the price tag, even though it is paced poorly. More than anything, The Ball has me excited about The Second Ball or The Balls or whatever Teotl Studios decides to develop next – assuming the developer improves upon this release.
Innovative and fun core mechanic. Pretty graphics.
Takes too long to really get started. Disconnect between puzzle solving and combat.