Balls to the Wall: A review of four “-ball” games, part 2

December 15, 2007

It’s been a while since I posted, but it’s still time to wrap up my last two-part post where I briefly reviewed two of four “rolling ball” games. Well, now for the rest. This time the games are Switchball and Super Gerball.

Switchball

Switchball

Switchball, the 800-pound gorilla- er, steel ball of the crowd. This game has the best production values, professional marketing and distribution put behind it, and backing by a major PC games publisher, Sierra. Just from visiting the game’s website, you can tell a ton of work has gone just into making it pleasing to look at. It sounds unfair to compare it to the other games on this list, but it’s all in a couple days’ work of research and testing out the competition.

Unlike the other ball games, and especially against Hamsterball Gold, Switchball is played at a more methodical pace and its central focus is solving puzzles. In the early stages you never feel like you’re coming close to falling off the ledge. It’s all about finding out what to do next, so logic prevails over steady nerves and reflexes. This would be a great game for anyone that finds other similar games frustrating because of frequent deaths. Adding to the puzzle-solving element are special contraptions that turn your ball into different materials. Your ball becomes marble, steel, or light-weight, depending on the situation at hand. A steel ball, due to its greater momentum, rolls down faster and moves objects around effortlessly.

As said before, this game pulls out all the stops in its presentation. This is the only game where you would actually need a good graphics card in order to experience all the goodness that its graphics have to offer. Features include high-quality textures and the ever-ubiquitous light bloom. Fortunately for users of older computers, you can turn these enhancements off and improve speed and performance. The menus are professionally done, as well as the sound effects. The music is never too invasive or annoying, but it does sound generic at times. Maybe not much of a big deal- you can turn down the game’s music if you so desire. Finally, the aesthetic is consistent and pleasing- the steampunk look works well all around and nothing feels out of place.

The physics are also worth mentioning. After proper adjustments, you never feel out of control of your ball. Your interactions with the environment are very convincing, and it’s all due to the highly acclaimed PhysX engine that the game is built upon. Switchball has a slightly weightier price at $19.95, but considering its production background, it’s a very good offer.

Super Gerball

Super Gerball

Now we’ve come to the last game that I checked out, Super Gerball. We’re back to budget quality, but how does this game hold up? Well, this game is high in spirit and hopes, meaning that its creator really tried to push to make this a Super Monkey Ball clone to the best of his abilities. Neverball and Switchball, beyond the gameplay, never tried to be exactly like SMB. But Super Gerball tries to get everything down pat, including the announcer voice-overs, cute critters and checkerboard patterned floors. You collect crystals, the equal to Aiai’s bananas, and many obstacles abound the trickier levels. The levels are grouped into themes just like SMB, and each set of themes are divided among three difficulty levels.

So is it a sure winner? I’m still hesitant to say yes. It has the fundamentals right, and even has the best control scheme imaginable with a mouse. You can click-drag to tilt the floor and releasing the mouse button “snaps” it to neutral position, just like a joystick. However, everything else about the game is not up to par. Most of the levels aren’t very creatively designed, or at least the easy/medium ones (you have to pay to play the hard difficulty) and the overall feel and look is sorta cheap. The midi-sounding music is not the best out of the four games I played, and the graphics, well, are passable. It would benefit greatly just from better textures. Neverball was done with programmer graphics as well, but at least with Neverball its creator understood his creative limits and played it safe by making the setting more abstract. In Super Gerball, you have to roll your gerbil in different house environments like the backyard, attic, etc. You need to put up with more realism to make you feel like you’re in the game (though I have to add, the motion blur on the ball is a nice touch).

The visual flaws in Super Gerball just stand out more simply because it strives the most to emulate a commercial-quality game. The similarities are many and they’re not subtle. But all is not lost with the game. It does have the added benefit of having a level editor, so you can choose to create wackier, more exciting levels if you choose to. They will just not look as good as ones in Super Monkey Ball, that’s all. Also at $19.95, the price is up there with Switchball, so I strongly recommend trying before you buy.

That is all for the review of Monkey Ball clones, and if you have found any more freeware/shareware/demoware games in this style, let me know.

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One Response to “Balls to the Wall: A review of four “-ball” games, part 2”


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