Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Four Quarter Frenzy -- Blazin' Balls

There are two kinds of games on XBLIG. (Well, three, if "trash" is a valid category.) One is a "console" game. That sounds kinda weird, but hear me out. These games are ones that are designed to be played in long sittings, have passwords/save points, and have some sort of beginning and some sort of end. Platformers come to mind. The other kind of game is an "arcade" game, where you can almost hear quarters going into coin slots when you hit start, where you care deeply about your score and how many lives you have left, and where "game over" actually means you start from scratch. Blazin' Balls fits firmly into that second category.

Blazin' Balls from DrMistry is a game that's all about forward movement. You control a ball in an effort to get from point A to point B in each level, finding more and more obstacles as you progress. The obstacles that cause your death are always holes in the course but how you end up in them is the tricky part. The different tiles on the course can make you jump, speed you up, slow you down, invert your left/right movement, or just make your screen look blurry for a bit, and all these in conjunction with some sadistically awesome level design make up the challenge of the game.

They also make up the entirety of the game. You can move left, right, speed up, slow down, and hit A to jump and that's it. These controls are simple, tight, responsive, and get the job done every time if you do things correctly. Arcade-based games like this live and die by how spot-on the controls are and, thankfully, DrMistry did the homework beforehand.

Speaking of arcade games, even the presentation of the game feels like an old 80's coin-munching upright. The robotic voice, minimalist background, everything right down to the rapid dings the score countdown makes when giving you a time bonus remind me of the days I'd spend at Starcade in the mall or begging my grandma for quarters at the bowling alley. It's not going to win "Visuals of the Year" or "Best Soundtrack EVAR" from anyone but, when it comes down to it, I can't imagine the game looking or sounding any other way.

Here's the part where I'd go all negative about the game but I honestly can't think of any major flaws the game has. The game's biggest downfall is that it does exactly what it sets out to do, which is create a fun and addicting "one more game" arcade experience, and nothing else. People looking for something to work for outside of high scores aren't going to find anything else outside of split-screen multiplayer and, even then, you're just going for a higher score than your opponent. Again, this isn't a flaw as much as it's just something that doesn't appeal to every gamer out there. I do wish there were dedicated online leaderboards but I can't fault them for that (it's an issue with XNA, not the developers).

For fans of frustrating arcade goodness, this is probably one of the better things you can find on XBLIG, and especially for a dollar. For everyone else, try the demo. While I can't guarantee that the experience is what everyone is looking for, I CAN guarantee that this game is well-made, does what it sets out to do, and deserves to be tried by nearly every person who frequents the XBLIG library. Hopefully, it sees a purchase from a good portion of them.

Blazin' Balls from DrMistry is available on XBox Live for 80 MS Points. Won a copy of the game, cussed at single player for a while, tried multiplayer to see what it was like, and then went back to cussing at single player. It's what I do.

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