Creat’s second title is a world away from Mahjong Tales – a more confident, complete package with plenty of charm and charisma. Based loosely on the bat and ball principle, Magic Ball is a breath of fresh air on the PS3.
Everybody has played a bat and ball game, be it the legendary arcade hit Arkanoid, the wonderful (and originally free) Batty on the ZX Spectrum or even any of the multitude of iPhone variants currently clogging up the AppStore. Thankfully, Magic Ball takes a bit of a steer from the normal 2D gameplay and although the principles are the same, Creat have mixed up the action with themed levels and plenty of variety.
It won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that the game is played with just the analog stick (or d-pad) and the cross button. Your paddle is at the foot of the screen and is moved smoothly left and right as expected, the aim being to keep the ball up in the main section of the screen and destroy everything that’s there to move on to the next level, of which there are almost fifty. Whilst the core gameplay remains the same throughout the entire game, the difficulty does slowly start to ramp up and you’ll then need to prioritise the various pickups and special powers that fall as the contents of the level are systematically broken down by the ball.
The first theme is pirates, and you’ll face a good number of levels based around a few stereotypes such as skeletons, sharks, treasure and cannons. Whilst the pick-ups are common for the entire game, it’s nice to see Creat have obviously spent some time crafting each challenge, and although you’re unlikely to play through the single player mode more than a couple of times, your ability to work out the best way to complete a level gets more advanced the more you play. Normally it’s best to take out the main sections with a heavy weapon pickup such as the laser or the earthquake and then whittle away at the stragglers, but if you can get the ball up and behind the flotsam and jetsam to start with you’ll pick up bonus multipliers and get those Trophies even quicker.
Magic Ball also supports both competitive and co-operative multiplayer, in which you’re tasked with trying to either complete a level before your opponent does, or working together to finish each one as quickly as possible.
Magic Ball is a deliciously colourful game, coated in primaries and as crisp as you’d like. Yes, the frame rate stutters a little when there’s explosions going off all over, but it doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay at all. Everything about the game screams bright and bold and works perfectly well with the style of game, and whilst there’s nothing in the game that will make your jaw drop and some of the character design is a little formulaic and obvious there’s plenty here to smile about. It’s sometimes a little tricky to see your ball and we would have liked some kind of pointer for when the projectile is invisible, but generally this is a reasonably attractive title and leaps and bounds ahead of Mahjong’s dull, lifeless visage.
Again, Creat have tweaked up the knob marked ‘cheesy’ with the sound effects, with all the obvious token gestures towards the various themes in the game and the spot effects are well produced and work well within the game’s design. The music can be irritating, however, with just the one track for each of the game’s sections, and doesn’t ever really seem to fit. It’s a small point, though, we weren’t expecting fully orchestrated symphonies and we didn’t get it.
Magic Ball generally runs at a gorgeous 60 frames a second in 1080p, and is fantastically sharp and vivid. The game supports Trophies, of which there are 12 and easily achieveable, and although there’s no custom music playback the online modes support voice chat and are lag free, although there aren’t many people online to challenge.
Magic Ball is a charming title that will appeal to a much wider range of gamers than most PSN downloads. It’s a little short, but younger gamers will appreciate the smooth learning curve and the two online modes will provide a little extra life, especially as they come complete with leaderboards. It’s true that there’s nothing earth shattering here but it’s easy enough to recommend to fans of the genre and to anyone else looking for something a little different to twin-stick shooters and silly screensavers. Next up: Cuboid…