It really doesn’t get much simpler; roll your ball from start to finish. Along the way, collect pickups to improve your reward and allow you to progress to further stages. However, through some inventive designs the game becomes much more than this. Even early on, levels push you to really pay attention, testing your skill as much as your patience. Anything red will damage your ball; take too much damage and off to the most recent checkpoint you go. In a great touch, everything follows the beat of the music.
Red pads on the floor will switch on and off, lasers will skip from point to point and turrets fire rhythmically, following the musics beat, allowing you to feel the solutions to the puzzles. Especially in the harder levels, I found my head bopping along, helping me time my movements (though I still died plenty as my natural rhythm seems to have skipped a beat). Boosting while touching any of these will result in insta-death. Timing the boost, as well as keeping in the rhythm can prove tricky, but get it right, and it’s possible to almost flow through sections.
The ball reacts reliably to your inputs too, with just the right amount of inertia to contend with. Much like previous games of its ilk, it can sometimes feel a little like the ball is working against you, but I never felt it was unfair or hampered my experience. Levels feature some great inventive designs, from simple mazes to skewed perspectives and imminent dangers forcing you to keep the pace up. Some even dare to provoke you, providing a clear path past the exit to collect some more deviously placed gold pieces in search of the 100% completion.
Ideas that pop up in one stage very rarely repeat to the next, and often have a variation on them if so. One stage sees your ball jumping to the beat, making it hard to control but allowing you to jump gaps; just a few levels later, it’s slowed down a bit and now controlled by a giant red ball bouncing off screen, while shooting lasers at you. Trying to manage the timing, while looking at the stage ahead and avoiding obstacles… a few curse words were uttered for sure! All the while, the game has some very dry, sarcastic humor scattered throughout.
Various tool-tips will encourage you along, often taunting you to try something that looks like it will fail, only to mock you when it does. It can get a little grating after repeated plays, but for the most part I felt it added a little extra spark to keep you engaged. Tickets are earned by competing stages, up to eight available on each by finishing with fewer retries or collecting all the gold pieces throughout. These are used to unlock further stages, with 192 needed for the final (and I imagine very tough) stage. By the end of the 4th world, I was lucky to be scraping by with 3 or 4 tickets.
If you are up for a challenge, then Ballhalla will definitely keep you going for a while. While the main levels are hard, there is no time limit, allowing you to pause and assess your plan of action. Competing an area will unlock time trials for the same levels, and it’s here where you can really put your skills to the test. Scraping a corner, or timing a boost so that floor pads just deactivate as you pass over them is extremely satisfying and definitely pushes your knowledge of the courses to the limits. Extra bonus levels are unlock as you progress as well, rewarding stars will unlock a further final challenge should you be able to get them all.
I have neither the time, or patience, to achieve these but it’s a neat addition that will keep players going for some time. I… rolled… credits in about 2 hours which may seem a little on the short side but if you’re up for the challenge then it’s easy to see this lasting much, much longer. It’s fair to say that some sections are maybe a bit too hard even just to pass, let alone keeping the challenges in mind. I can see some players being unable to even get to the final levels simply due to lack of tickets from earlier levels, but for the most part, trial and error will get you through.
For such a simple concept, the game constantly pushes and surprises you with inventive, fun challenges. Sometimes it can be a little too hard for its own good, but a little perseverance goes a long way.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.