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Saturday Specials: Would You Like A Roll With That?

Rating 4.00 out of 5
[?]

Okay, I realize that it’s Sunday, but I started this yesterday.  That’s just the way things work in my world.  I didn’t want to miss again, since I didn’t post anything last week, and I don’t want to flip-flop the name between Saturday Specials and Sunday Selections, so that’s just the way it is.  Now on to the regularly scheduled irregular feature…

In this week’s Saturday Specials I’m going to discuss a genre that’s absolutely perfect for the iDevice – the rolling ball game.  With the accelerometer for movement and a touch screen for jumping, the concept of a ball rolling across a series of platforms makes sense.  The problem is that it’s an easy style of game to just slap together and throw out there, so care must be taken to make something more interesting out of it without over complicating it.  Today I’ll take a look at three different games that have done that to varying degrees, some not as well as one might hope.  To start things rolling…

Funkyball Worlds

This one comes to us from Astraware, who has a pretty decent record of turning out quality mobile games.  Fortunately, Funkyball Worlds doesn’t disappoint.  The goal is to get to the end of each level.  How well you actually do in the game, however, is determined by how little time it takes you to reach the exit.  Each level can be completed without truly ranking, but certain time scores can earn you a bronze, silver or gold medal for each level.  Along the way you can pick up bronze, silver and gold stars which will deduct time from your total at the end of a level.  Unfortunately, on the other side of things there are plenty of obstacles to try and hold you back.

Rolling Through The Desert

Rolling Through The Desert

The platform layout itself is designed to keep you thinking, instead of just presenting the standard “move from left to right” paradigm that so many of these games use.  In addition to that you’ll run into things like flame throwers, electric barriers, platforms that can only be used a certain number of times, and platforms that can only be used for a certain length of time.  These are just a few of the traps you’ll find waiting for you in the first level set, which is Forest.  In the Desert level set you have to take wind into account, and on the Water level set the gravity of the situation is different.  Each world has 24 levels that you can play through multiple times to try and get the gold star ranking, and there are 33 achievements via OpenFeint to keep you busy for quite a while.

The graphics in Funkyball World are very nice.  The multi-layered backgrounds are designed to reflect the particular world you’re in, and each has its own atmospheric items, whether it’s falling leaves in the Forest or bubbles rising to the surface in the Water level.  There are some slick little special effects as well, like the trail that follows the ball or the swirl when the ball gets sucked into the exit at the end of the level.  The sound effects are nothing special, but they work well and don’t get annoying, so I’m good with that.  I really like the music, and appreciate the fact that each world has its own theme.  I think the music in the world selection screen might even be a different tune than the worlds themselves.

This is definitely one of the better games of this style in the App Store.

Final Verdict: Recommended
App Store Link

Fastball

This game had special interest to me because it was developed using a program that runs on Windows (I know that won’t mean much to the non-programmer, but aspiring iPhone developers will understand the significance).  It turns out the game isn’t too bad, but it is a bit rough around the edges.  Like most games of this genre, the goal is to reach the end of each level.  Along the way you’ll collect stars, which is what gives you your points each level.  Traps are pretty standard fare in this game, consisting mainly of objects and pits to jump over.  One thing I found kind of interesting was that if you hit the edge of a platform instead of landing on top of it you die.  That makes this more of a “have to keep moving forward” game than a “let’s explore the levels” type scenario.

Into The Red

Into The Red

I like the fact that there are multiple paths on many levels, which actually lead to different exits.  It’s nice not always having to try to get to the same place on a given level.  I also like the fact that there are two different game play modes.  In Progress mode you actually have levels you have to beat.  In marathon mode you traverse one big level and just keep going until you hit something.  Unfortunately, the obstacles in marathon mode don’t seem to be randomly generated, which is a bit of a bummer.  I also don’t like the fact that tapping to jump seems to have issues sometimes.  Once you’ve gotten to work it appears to be fine, but I’ve had several times where I’ve had to play a level 2 or 3 times before I could actually jump.

The graphics are nothing to write home about, but they aren’t terrible either.  The ball is probably the most detailed element, with everything else basically being outlines of objects.  There aren’t really any nifty special effects, either.  There also aren’t any sound effects, which is kind of a shame.  The music is nice, but overall things just seem to quiet.  Also, while I like the music, it would have been nice to have a separate theme for the marathon and progress modes.

For a first effort this isn’t a bad game.  The problem is that for the low price point that most games sell for in the App Store, there are much better options in this genre.

Final Verdict: On The Fence
App Store Link

Stone Wheel

To be perfectly honest, I bought this as much to have a third item for this review as anything.  In hindsight, I might have been better of digging through my collection to see if I had anything else to fill the gap.  It’s not that Stone Wheel is necessarily an awful game, but it’s certainly not great.  It takes a few unique twists to the rolling ball genre.  Some work, some don’t.  Unfortunately, the end result is a hodgepodge that’s more frustrating than fun.

Who Lost Their Wheel?

Who Lost Their Wheel?

First of all, you’re a wheel, not a ball.  That’s fine with me, as a change of theme is always refreshing.  Second, you can’t jump.  This is where the game gets a bit weird.  To move between platforms – at least ones that you can’t just roll between – you’ll need to use red platforms that allow you to bounce and little things that look like nails which cause you to fly in the air.  It’s actually an interesting concept, but the level designs are so maddening that you soon don’t care about the novelty of not jumping.  If you’re using the accelerometer for movement, staying on a moving platform is next to impossible.  After a while I ended up switching to using touch to move the wheel, but in the end I don’t think it would make much of a difference.  You’ll basically spend a few minutes fighting with each level, ultimately beat it with a sigh of relief that it’s over, and after about an hour realize that you’ve beaten the whole game.

The graphics are kind of a mess.  The wheel and some of the objects like torches don’t look bad.  The platforms look like they were haphazardly pieced together, and there are lots of places where you can see seams between images.  The backgrounds look like leftovers from a default wallpaper package for Windows XP.  Sound effects and music are non-existent, which only adds to the blah nature of the environment.

I applaud the fact that the developer tried to do something different, but this game needs some cleaning up before it can compete with its contemporaries.

Final Verdict: Not Recommended
App Store Link

That’s it for this week.  I don’t know what next week has in store, but rest assured whatever topic it is, the reviews will come in a set of three.  Until then…

[Note: I've updated this post several months after publishing simply to add App Store links for all the games. I can't believe I didn't do that the first time around. Oops.]

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