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Games for Lunch: The Ball

Posted by Kyle Orland (October 25, 2010)

Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Developer: Toltec Studios
Publisher: Toltec Studios
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2010
System: PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Weighted Companion Sphere

0:00 I know practically nothing about this game, but the press materials that came with this beta compared it to Portal, so my expectations are quite high.

0:02 I’m not including the time it took to download this massive game from Steam, but I am including the two minutes or so it took to “perform first time setup” when I launch the game.

0:03 A few minutes spent tinkering with the settings: increasing the resolution and learning the default controls. The title screen features a shiny metal ball on a platform, with a few glowing circular sections on its face. Flies buzz around inside a cave filled with large gears, as figures shamble in the background. Atmospheric!

0:04 I start the Campaign and get to read a bit about the premise. “Separated form your friend you find yourself trapped in a cavern.” The rest of the text introduction spoils some surprises, actually, so I’m not even going to retype it here.

0:05 “Pico Del Medio, Mexico, 1940.” Zoom on a mountain peak and a dig site against an orange sky. Then cut to a view up from down the bottom of a 50 foot shaft. “Hey, are you all right?” calls a guy from the surface. “That was quite a fall you took. Listen, the crane broke down, we have to fly in a replacement and that will take some time. Go on and explore the area. We will meet up with you later.” The voice acting is borderline atrocious

0:06 I walk towards the obvious light source and fall down through a crumbling bridge. I walk some more and come to some sort of steampunk gun, which I pick up automatically. A left click winds a circular section to power a hammering motion on the front. A right-click creates a sucking blue aura that doesn’t seem to affect the environment. The animation is nice, at least.

0:09 I walk in a newly opened room and the titular ball drops down from the ceiling. It’s bigger than it looked on the title screen @@md a little taller than my character, actually. The right-click sucking aura draws it to my position, and holds it there right in front of me. The left-click hammering motion knocks it forward violently like a giant bowling ball. I like the sense of momentum and weightiness the metal ball shows already.

0:10 My hammer gun can’t break the pots sitting near the walls? Lame.

0:12 The game’s first puzzle involves using the hammer to knock the ball into a switch in a dug out section of floor, then using the magnet to draw it back to another switch. This extends a bridge so I can walk across the ravine and hit a third switch. “You have completed this puzzle. You may go on to the next room.” Seems a bit artificial...

0:13 A large tablet of hieroglyphics is automatically translated, telling a tale about how mankind took the ball from “them,” and how mankind learned a bunch of stuff from the ball, and how “they” subsequently got pretty angry about the whole thing. “Mankind prayed that ‘They’ would never find the ball.” I am confused.

0:14 I jump into a little alleyway and find a golden head, which is “Macuilxochitl. Secret 1/4.” The game recounts a cryptic story about a guy giving this head as a gift to an obviously terrified woman. I am even more confused.

0:16 The ball is caught in a powerful electromagnet. I step on a nearby switch to turn the magnet off. I know it’s still tutorial time, but I’m amazed the designers couldn’t weave that into a more elegant puzzle.

0:19 At first I think this next puzzle involves shooting the ball up into a raised area with an angled hammer shot, but when I do that the door I need to pass through remains frustratingly closed. What am I missing here?

0:21 I press H to get some help with the puzzle. “No help message available.” Oh, great.

0:22 Apparently, pushing the ball to the end of the hallway and standing on it gives me just enough extra height to jump up to the raised area and and step on a panel myself. I’m not sure this was the actual solution I was intended to use, and even if it was, it’s a pretty stupid solution.

0:24 I’m trying to use the indestructible ball as a makeshift platform to cross a bed of spikes, but I keep slipping off before the game’s sloppy controls register my jump. Oh, it turns out I’m supposed to use these little wooden stakes on the walls to jump across instead? Fine, whatever.

0:25 Good god! The shrieking monkey I just startled out of the shadows nearly made me jump out of my skin. Those are some loud sound effects, there!

0:27 Interesting... I can use the magnet part of my gun to guide the ball even though it’s running through a little tunnel below my feet. If I let go of the magnet at the right time, the momentum carries it to a nearby lava pool. This has some potential

0:28 Wow... I just totally missed a bridge across the lava, stepping right to my death instead.

0:30 Games where you can’t see your feet should not have this much careful platform management. Or jump buttons that are this slow to respond. It’s getting kind of annoying, now.

0:32 Interesting... I can connect my ball to a nearby block with the E button, causing the block to wrap a series of ropes around the ball, I can then drag them both as a unit. I can see a lot of puzzle potential here too.

0:36 Just discovered a room with some sort of gravity-reducing energy fan just below the floor. Makes my jumps go roughly 15 feet in the air, and lets me knock some nearby blocks into gentle floating arcs with the hammer gun. Fun with physics!

0:38 I’ve finally placed all four blocks in the four really obvious glowing block-shaped receptacles. This was harder than it had to be because knocking them awkwardly with the hammer gun is the only way to move them.

0:39 The Ball and I are lowered down a rickety sounding wooden elevator and land in some water at the bottom of an even darker cavern, where a switch ends the first level, earning me the Beginner’s Luck achievement. I only found 1 of 4 secrets. Also, I apparently killed three monkeys without even trying. Wow!

0:40 “The way ahead is shut, entombed forever by the people of the fallen banner,” reads the hieroglyphics. “He who attempts to break the seal will make a wasteland of his home and those of his brothers.” Ooooooh. Spooky!

0:43 The only problems with dragging this ball around everywhere is that it obscures my view of the well-rendered cavernous environments. Sure, the ball goes semi-transparent when I’m holding it with the gun, but it’s still annoying.

0:44 I send the ball into a pool of water and dive in after it. I’m surprised to find there’s no breath meter or other indication that I will eventually drown. Am I a merman?

0:45 Just sent the ball to hit a switch in a nearby room. It’s locked in place as the room fills with water. I calmly swim to a hallway near the ceiling and hit a switch. The water goes away, the ball is freed, and I get an “area complete” message. Wow... way to ruin what could have been a really tense situation with an overly simple puzzle.

0:47 The never ending stream of arrows coming from slats in the wall here just looks ridiculous. It’s firing like 20 arrows a second without a pause. Where are they coming from? Is there an infinite supply of arrows back there or something? Anyway, they’re quite easy to block using the ball as a shield.

0:50 I hit a switch, raise the water, hit another switch, open the passage, go down the passage. These puzzles are still way too simple.

0:52 I’m at a bit of a loss on how to proceed here. My ball can’t fit through the narrow corridor leading to the next room, but I can. No amount of hammering wedges it through. I can’t really backtrack, and there are no obvious switches to hit or anything. Hmm...

0:55 There are some corridors up above me, but they’re way too high to reach. Was I supposed to swim up there when this room was filled with water? Did I screw up by sending the ball to lower the water too early? If so, that’s some horrible puzzle design

0:57 Jumping is slightly faster than walking, which means I’m constantly, ridiculously skipping down these corridors instead of just walking like a normal person. Hey, I don’t mind looking ridiculous if I’m faster because of it!

1:00 I spent the last three minutes chasing a monkey because I can’t figure out what the hell else to DO!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I’m a fan of the general concept, and the potential for that concept to generate some good puzzles will keep me going for a bit. If the puzzles don’t get a bit more interesting really soon, though, I’m gonna have to pass.

This review was based on a beta version provided by the publisher.

Check out hundreds of archived Games for Lunch reviews on the official Games for Lunch blog.

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