They see me rollin’
Some of the most endearing games have immensely simple setups. Fundamentally, a game can be about merely guiding an object from one point to another on a board with a multitude of obstacles to surmount. Indie effort Road To Ballhalla takes this concept and runs with it, milking it for all its worth while throwing some humor and surprises into the mix.
As the name would imply, players control a ball and navigate it across a series of courses from a predominantly top-down perspective. It’s rather intuitive and it’s nothing that requires a steep learning curve to understand, but naturally things get complex before too long. All sorts of gimmicks are introduced, from deadly lasers to teleporters to hazardous floor tiles.
In many cases, new obstacles are introduced and their function is explicitly detailed, but occasionally the game takes delight in playing jokes on the player. You’ll be lured into a trap with a false promise, in which case the game will state that it simply lied. Though it may seem like a nasty move on the part of the developer, it’s all in good fun and there isn’t a serious penalty for following false advice. Many similar offbeat jokes appear through the levels and they help to liven the mood and make the game more colorful on the whole. It’s all text, but you can almost imagine GlaDOS herself delivering the lines as you play.
The levels are littered with yellow orbs which help towards better statistics upon completion. In various spots, players will have to choose between finishing a level quickly or taking the road with more orbs and potential hazards. With the press of a key, you can send the ball moving faster, but the ground may be host to tiles which destroy the ball instantly if it’s moving fast. Considerations like these feature throughout the game, with many other minor puzzles that test your cognitive abilities as well as your reflexes. You’ll fall victim to misplaced hazards regularly, but it never feels unfair. There are an abundance of checkpoints, but don’t think these soften things: in some cases, checkpoints are placed in such a manner that they reset progress and hinder a player’s actions!
Sadly, the whole affair seems somewhat brief and it’ll likely take only a few hours to unlock all the levels and some of the extras. All the same, it’s great fun while it lasts. The challenge steadily increases without ever reaching frustrating territory. To compliment the experience, everything is wrapped up in clean, bright neon colors and an electro soundtrack that’ll have you humming all day. As things progress, you’ll even be able to customize your ball, with options such as its color and whether or not it leaves a trail behind it. Best of all, it borders on rhythm game territory by having events move to the music. Not only does it help you execute tasks better, it enhances gameplay by uniting action with sound.
It’s like a spiritual sequel to Marble Madness with a touch of the Ballance formula and the deadpan humor of Portal. Very easy to get into, challenging to master, filled with excellent levels and gimmicks, and all wrapped up in lovely neon sensibilities. Now if that’s not a winning formula, I don’t know what is. Apart from the somewhat short length, it’s very hard to find fault in Road To Ballhalla. Head on over to the game’s official page on Steam right now to procure your copy. You won’t be sorry.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: tinyBuild Games ; Developer: Torched Hill ; Players: 1 ; Released: August 5, 2016.
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Road to Ballhalla given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.