Real Talk By: Zombie Zac
One of the most distinct memories I have of my original NES system was playing Marble Madness with my friend. It was one of those situations where you played the games you had and you learned to love them all, regardless of their actual ‘quality’. That’s how I learned to love games like Fester’s Quest, and The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Marble Madness is a punishing action puzzler, with severely touchy controls, with zero of the warmth found in something like Mario Bros. or Zelda, but yet there we were, rolling this marble around and having fun. This was also a time when it was hard to find information on games, and you went off box art, or simply what was bought for you, and you committed time to it. Contrast that with 2018, where there’s hundreds of reviews, Let’s Play Youtube videos, game demos, and free to play games— an overload of information and games vying for your time. Is it possible to stumble into a lesser known game, that maybe isn’t top-tier, but embrace it, with all of this content around you?
Road to Ballhalla is, like Marble Madness, an action-puzzler, where the player commands a ball around different stages getting from point A to point B without dying. It’s really there where the similarities end, and Road to Ballhalla becomes more of a rhythm-based puzzle game. It is right out of the Super Mario Galaxy playbook, with stages that pulse with an electronic beat, corresponding to color-changing hazards. Roll too late off the beat, or too early and a red grid will flip and deplete your life force down. As levels progress, Road to Ballhalla reveals more and more layers to this— lasers, different colored floors, checkpoint systems that manipulate your progression, all musically organized and hand-delivered with tongue-in-cheek writing that even had me turning my Switch upside down to read messages. If only the music was remotely interesting, Lumines, or Rez this is not.
Thankfully, death isn’t a significant punishment and progression is more about collecting enough orbs in each level. It may be simple to roll to the level exit, but to get a 100% completion you usually have to put yourself into harms way. The challenge becomes looking at a stage that is sometimes full of moving components, and grasping what the patterns are and figuring out a path forward. Each new world introduces some kind of new gameplay component that will stack upon what you have previously learned, giving a good sense of skilled progression. I particularly enjoy the boost mechanic that gives the levels a bit of tension, boosting around the level but at risk of instant death. If you roll slower and choose a more methodical pace, the game is a bit more forgiving for some mistakes.
The presentation is simple, with bold colors and a generally minimalistic design. The game works well as a pick up and play portable game, but in general lacks the kind of audio and visual presentation to be interesting enough to play on your bigger TV screen. It feels distinctly like a mobile game, although there are not any of those nasty pay-to-play mechanics, but just in that it is a simple, barebones experience. It’s hard to say who this game is really for, as the ‘ball-rolling genre’ is the definition of niche, and with all the amazing games dropping at such a fast clip on the Switch it’s hard to see how Road to Ballhalla will even remain visible for players on the eShop. For $15 dollars this feels way too high, considering this is the same price that something like Hollow Knight costs– $4.99 would be more appropriate.
My biggest gripe with Road to Ballhalla is just how ordinary it feels. It’s lacking any kind of identifiable personality. Generic visuals, audio design, and gameplay concepts found in other games gives this a been there done that feeling. While it does have fourth-wall breaking dialogue, if it weren’t for that, it would be hard to find anything here remotely charming. That being said, there’s nothing offensive here, besides the steep price tag, and it does provide some nice puzzling action if you allow yourself to try to 100% the levels. Realistically, due to the amount of high-end content being released on Switch, it’s hard to recommend Road to Ballhalla unless it receives a significant price drop.
Road to Ballhalla Gets
2 out of 5
+Easy to pick up and play
+Boosting adds welcome tension
+Forgiving but challenging design
-Generic audio and visuals
-Gameplay concepts feel recycled
-Lacks compelling qualities amongst other eShop titles
-Music falls short of being engaging
-$14.99 is too high of a price point