I’m no mind reader, but I’m almost sure that the first thought that crosses people’s minds when they read about The Ball, Teotl Studios’ debut effort, is, “Oh, so it’s like Portal then?” I’m guilty of that very notion myself, which is why I wanted to play the first person action-puzzler for myself and find out if my hopes were indeed true.
Five to seven hours later, I can say that yes, it is indeed like Portal, if you sucked all the personality out of it and replaced it with a moody atmosphere that’s more awkward than appealing.
Like Portal, The Ball is indeed a first person puzzler, but the comparisons stop there. The Ball has a story that’s more unclear than mysterious, a tale about old Aztec cultures and other unknown creatures that may have either aided or led to the demise of the ancient civilization. As some sort of Indiana Jones-esque archaeologist in mid-20th century Mexico, you’re at a dig site when you all of a sudden fall through a hole and discover a vast hidden city. By your side, you also find an odd, gun-looking tool styled in a way that would make Mike Mignola proud, and eventually the game’s namesake, a large, decorative ball adorned with all sorts of fancy squiggles and markings. Using the powers of the gun-tool and the ball, you brilliantly deduce that the only way to get out of the immense cavern is to go deeper into it, and in doing so you uncover a lost city with an inhuman society still inhabiting the area.
The plot in general isn’t exactly coherent; it’s told through various glyphs and cutscenes at the beginning of levels, and doesn’t really do much to make you care about what you’re doing. Halfway through the game I completely lost track of what the hell was going on and instead wanted to keep going and play through the puzzles instead.
Speaking of which, the puzzles aren’t exactly the most creative gameplay elements either. Throughout the game you’re essentially escorting this giant ball around by using the gun-tool to either hammer the ball and shoot it at objects, or attract the ball like a magnet to retrieve it from where ever it may be. With such simple yet deep mechanics, you’d think Teotl Studios would have found a way to bring out the full potential of puzzles, but ultimately every single puzzle consists of “to get out of this room, go press the button.” This wouldn’t be a problem at all if the journey to the end of the puzzle was worthwhile, but often times the process isn’t even that interesting, especially at the beginning of the game.
And by “at the beginning”, I mean “for the first two-thirds of the game.” The first few hours can be unbearably droll, especially if you were expecting something a bit more challenging. Repetive, brain-numbing puzzles and stages that are huge in scale but don’t have much to fill that space are the primary offenders; contrary to popular belief, completing a simple “press the Player and Ball Buttons at the same time” puzzle for the umpteenth time, and then walking for one minute across the room to the next stage is not fun. Fortunately, although the story never really gets any better, for the last couple hours the puzzles did get more intricate and more fun. Late-game elements such as adding a low gravity field to the ball, or having the ball conduct electricity to power up other gadgets entered into the foray just as I was losing all hope for the game, and they made me want to keep on playing through the end, despite a lot of the glaring shortcomings that still shine on through later in the game, such as the combat.
Yes, there is combat in this game, where you only have nothing but a ball and your noggin to fight these enemies. Although you really don’t need much of a brain; most of the time these enemy counters will be nothing but partially retarded mummies that do nothing but run at you and scowl. All it takes is a tap of your ball to turn them into red goo, and often they’ll just run into the ball, as if they know how useless they are. At certain points you actually run into makeshift arenas, where you have to fend off large groups of mummies in order to progress. It’s completely devoid of challenge, slows the game down to a halt, and is just completely unnecessary. The enemies do get larger and more difficult, and at one point you have to fight a zombified gorilla, but beyond the “oh hey cool, a gorilla with one hairy arm and one fleshy arm is lumbering after me” effect, they’re not challenging at all, and they feel like they’re just there to extend your playing time with the game, with no regard for pacing or a rational reason as to why all this crazy crap is happening.
Ultimately, that’s really what made this game a huge downer. The graphics are quite impressive, and the sheer scale of environments really is a thing to behold, but it’s exactly that, eye candy and nothing more. A good chunk of the game just doesn’t feel right, as if it were added in at a later stage of development to appease a particular gaming demographic. The completely inconsequential combat is a testament to that; take out the combat and you probably would have had a much much better game with tighter pacing and a greater focus on puzzle solving. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s actually a Survival mode of the game, beyond the Campaign, where they highlight their shoddy combat mechanic with a mode where you take down waves and waves of dumb mummies.
The concept was definitely intriguing, and the world had immense potential, but as it stands, The Ball is not worthy of being played with by these soft, delicate manchild fingers.
- Title: The Ball
- Platform Reviewed: PC
- Developer: Teotl Studios
- Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
- Release Date: October 26, 2010
- MSRP: $19.99
- Review Copy Info: A download copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the developer for the purpose of this review.