Road to Ballhalla makes no qualms about what it is. This is a game that you’ll likely be familiar with. One part Marble Madness, one part Sound Shapes, a little Super Monkey Ball and that about covers the gameplay. No this game won’t be winning any awards for groundbreaking innovation or unique mechanics. Instead Ballhalla embraces it’s simplistic, albeit proven game play design, and applies layer upon layer of polish to deliver a fun and challenging experience. Pepper in a strong sense of self awareness and an endless supply of puns and there you have Road to Ballhalla.
The first thing that stood out to me was the slick presentation. The game starts with a tutorial where the visuals immediately grab your attention. The futuristic neon visuals evoke memories of Tron and the simplistic gameplay does the same. When you take control of the ball you’ll already have a good grasp of how to play. You have the choice of keyboard or gamepad to move around. There’s also a boost button, which becomes pertinent to surviving on your journey. As you weave through the maze collecting your tokens, for lack of a better word, the rhythm of the music helps keep you safe.
The music plays a large roll (get it?), in the core of the game. The hazards range from red panels on the floor, lasers that block your path, projectiles fired from different directions, and more. These hazards come in rhythm to the music, helping to guide you through the maze. There are 4 worlds in total, with 5 levels in each world. With each new level the difficulty increases, the music ramping up its intensity to make this clear. The first few levels are a breeze, especially for those familiar with the mechanics. I was starting to think the game would be far too short. As you get further into the game, each level takes longer and longer to master in order to complete it.
Some of the mechanics used to increase the difficulty – I was a fan of. It required fine tuning your skills and staying on beat in order to succeed. Others didn’t quite work for me. Maybe it’s just the build I played, but some of the hit detection was off. On top of that, there were some mechanics I downright hated. Later levels have invisible floors. There were also a few levels that flipped the controls on you in different ways throughout the level. A lot of this requires trial and error, or learn by dying. I personally am not a fan of games that require you to die in order to learn. A lot of it is done in jest, which is a recurring theme throughout the game. The humor is basically an endless supply of puns and shtick. Some of it is hilariously clever, tongue-in-cheek humor. Others are tired internet humor. Overall the self-awareness is charming and helps embrace some of the flaws in the design
Though this difficulty increase stretches the length of the game considerably, it’s still a very brief experience overall. I personally finished it in just a few hours. That’s not to say I was done with the game. There are a few fun things to keep the hardcore fans coming back for more. Each level has a reward system based on how much you collect and how many lives used. Collecting these is the key to replay-ability. Doing so unlocks customization options such as the color of your balls (hehe), or the color of the trail it leaves behind. It also unlocks rush mode for certain levels, which is essentially a speed-run mode. Each rush mode has 3 stars to unlock. I tried my hand at these for a bit, and it quickly became apparent that it would take quite a while to master these.
So in summation I liked, but didn’t love my time with Road to Ballhalla. For me the presentation and the soundtrack are what really save it here. Being self-aware can ease the burden of being played out, but it doesn’t change the fact that this formula is still a little tired. The other twists thrown in to shake things up didn’t always work for me, and even seemed forced, hurting the experience rather than helping it. There’s plenty to like about the game there for fans of the genre though, and the hardcores will love the speed trials.
Road to Ballhalla is now available on PC!
* Review copy provided by the development team or publisher