Review: On The Ball (SNES)

By Drew Wilson

On The Ball is a unique puzzle game that get’s you to control the orientation of a maze in an effort to push a ball to the goal. We take a look at this rather unique game.

This particular SNES game was released in 1992. This game would take a very unique approach to general gameplay.

Players are essentially greeted with a title screen. When the player starts, they have a choice between four courses in the plain. Players can play through any course in the plane in any order they choose, but they must complete all four in order to move on to the next plain. If a player completes a plain, they are given an ending with some art and a password that is mandatory to use in order to move on.

Unlike many games where you control a character or object within an environment, this game gets you to manipulate the environment in an effort to affect change on, in this case, a marble. Using the right or left arrows turns the whole maze clockwise or counterclockwise respectively. You can use the L and R buttons to turn the maze even faster.

What is constant in any one level is gravity. In most levels, gravity pushes the ball down, though some levels, gravity is reversed. You can increase gravity at will with A. This can allow the ball to travel through the maze faster or have an increased chance at busting up breakables along the way.

One thing that is constant is the timer. This timer is cumulative throughout the course. On the first level of a particular course, you are given a set amount of time to complete the level. If the player is successful in completing that level within that time limit, the player carries what time is remaining over to the next round as well as a completion time bonus. So, the faster the player completes each level, the more time the player can have on the next level. If a player is very low on time by the time they complete any particular level, players can be awarded bonus time in the mini-slots game. The maximum amount of time the player is awarded in this minigame is 30 seconds. This can be critical to allowing a player to complete a course.

If a player runs out of time on any level, they’ll be offered a chance to continue with a precious extra few seconds if they match their number to a randomly selected number. If the player matches the number, they’ll be declared “Fortunate” and obtain that extra few seconds to possibly complete the level. If the player doesn’t match the number, they’ll be declared “unfortunate” and their marble will explode, forcing the player to burn through a continue.

There are numerous things a player encounters in each level. There’s the standard concrete wall that stops a player completely no matter what. Sometimes, in these concrete blocks are numbers. These numbers can indicate roughly how far away they are from the goal. So, if there is a “5” carved into one, the player will have to pass four more additional numbers before reaching the goal.

What can be even more helpful is red arrows painted on them. These point the player in the correct direction to the goal. While, at first, these arrows seem somewhat useless, players will eventually encounter levels that split off into multiple directions. These arrows help prevent players from going in circles in the maze. Arrows can also be found floating in mid air as well.

There’s also wooden walls. The only difference between concrete walls and wooden walls is the fact that they look different and sound different when a player hits them.

In addition, there’s also small metal circles (pins?) that sometimes dot the maze. These simply serve to add an extra challenge for the player. Sometimes, they are nicely spaced out so that it merely slows the player down. Other times, these circles line either side of your path so that you have a winding rout to the finish.

There are also breakable blocks that look similar to wood. If a player is travelling fast enough, they’ll be able to bust through these blocks and be awarded 1000 points for successfully breaking a block. More than likely, though, these wind up being more of an impediment since they can slow your progress down substantially. Sometimes, these blocks have numbers embedded in them. Yellow numbers with a plus sign indicate that if you bust through that particular block, you’ll be awarded a little time bonus (usually 3 or 5 extra seconds). Red numbers with negative’s mean that if you bust through that block, you’ll get a time deduction (also 3 or 5 seconds). Avoid these if you can.

What can also reduce your time is large blocks with an “X” in them. If you touch them, you’ll get time taken away. If they are yellow, you’ll have 3 seconds taken away. If you touch a red one, you’ll have a whole 5 seconds taken away. A lot of time considering that it’s rare you can get your timer above 80 seconds in total and courses can take almost a minute to complete in some cases.

Another thing thrown in are gates. These change steadily from “Stop” to “Go!”. If you run into them when they say “Stop”, you’ll get stopped dead in your tracks. Naturally, if they say “Go!”, they’ll act as if they would otherwise not even be there. Timing is everything with gates.

Another thing that can either slow you down or speed you up are thin red lines. Depending on which direction they are radiating, they can either speed you up or slow you down. While the direction never changes, sometimes, you’ll encounter these areas where they’ll push your ball in the wrong direction. In those instances, you sometimes just need to give your ball plenty of momentum to push through it.

An odd addition to all of these are pinball bumpers. If you touch these round bumpers with the “5000” on them, you’ll be awarded 5000 points and the bumper will push your ball away. While these bumpers can help you rack up a lot of points if there’s lots around, they are also an impediment as they can simply distract you long enough to burn through your remaining time. So, most of the time, if you can avoid these, you are better off because actually completing the course is more important that getting a high score.

Some levels have a unique way of keeping the challenge interesting. In some levels, gravity is reversed. This is usually after numerous levels where gravity pushes the ball down. This adds an extra bit of challenge because it reverses what you are used to. Re-orientating your strategies so you can still get through the maze just as quickly can be surprisingly challenging.

There are also some levels that limit your ability to turn the maze. You are only given 90 degrees to work with (45 degrees in either direction). These levels have a real way of challenging you to, say, push your ball over large obstacles. Sometimes, those 5000 point bumpers can actually help you.

Graphically, I thought that this game was well done. While the title screen may look a little bland given the background is a stark black, every plain you enter changes the color of the title and the font. This adds just enough variety to allow me to give it a thumbs up. Also, every time you complete a plain, you are treated to a different piece of art that incorporates the ball. Sometimes, it’s a necklace, sometimes it’s air bubbles, and in one instance, the ball is amusingly getting abducted by aliens. Each level picks from a huge variety of backgrounds. Some are simply an image, others are actually animated. This really added flavor to each level even if they are eventually repeated. The number of backgrounds, so far as I can tell, is large and I didn’t really find them all that repetitive. Overall, I’d say the graphics were well done.

The music was interesting. Since you were not likely to spend more than a minute on each level, the each song wasn’t all that long. Still, it wasn’t going to be repeating much as you zip through each level. This is one of those rare instances where the music was usually less than a minute and a half long (and looped) and the music wasn’t really all that repetitive while in-game. After a while, I did find the music selection a little repetitive, so I felt that the game could use a few more tunes to help with variety, but this wasn’t a huge thing for me. The sound effects were nicely done. They were certainly well tailored to this particular game.

Overall, I liked how this game picked at my brain. It wasn’t one of those impossible to play games where you died within the first few minutes of play, but it wasn’t boringly easy either as there was always a way to challenge yourself throughout the initial few plains. Good luck completing the last plain though. It was tough getting to the final plain, but I couldn’t really get that far in it before running out of time. The difficulty curve was nice, so it didn’t suddenly spike in any way which makes a decent game great. Some people felt that this game was dizzying, but I never found myself getting dizzy with this game. This was thanks to the background being fixed in place. This added sufficient visual stability so that the constant changing of the environment was more enjoyable than anything else. I thought this game had a really neat and unique idea. While it was original, it was extremely easy to understand at the beginning. The game kept me entertained throughout and didn’t get all that boring even though there were numerous levels one could go through. All in all, I would recommend this game as something to try. An enjoyable game.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Unlocked the final plain, but couldn’t complete any of the courses.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 82%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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