Sunday, January 20, 2008

Battle Ball Review

Battle Ball, developed and published by Mindwave Games.
The Good: Simple but relatively deep gameplay, games are short, beginner and veteran modes of play, online stat tracking and game betting, free to play with an inexpensive optional lifetime membership
The Not So Good: Rudimentary graphics
What say you? An addictive (and free) online 3-D Pong game with MMO-like features: 6/8

Pong. The name brings up images of classic video gaming, being the first commercially successful game thanks to its easy to learn mechanics and addictive nature. There have been plenty of knock-offs since the game was released in 1972, and next in line is Battle Ball. This title takes the Pong gameplay into three dimensions and adds in some MMO elements. Will Battle Ball provide compelling online competition?

Easily the worst feature of Battle Ball is the very basic presentation. The game looks like it was made by one guy (was it?), featuring a very frugal game world that provides the minimum of what is required to play the game. This isn’t completely terrible, however, since there isn’t much to distract you from the gameplay. The interface is designed well, clearly displaying the ball spin and assisting you with placing your paddle in the correct location. The game’s browser has the tendency to truncate text as well; although you can still make out the numbers, it shows the lack of polish with the game. Sound is low-cost as well, featuring just the basic impact effects. Though I will admit the “whooshing” of the ball is enjoyable and informative. Well, we’re obviously not playing Battle Ball for the graphics or sound.

Battle Ball takes Pong and moves it into three dimensions, so you will need to bounce the ball by moving your paddle up, down, left, and right. This obviously makes the game much harder than classic 2-D Pong titles, and the ability to add spin to the ball and careen off walls makes for some interesting results. This is an online game (you need to have an active Internet connection in order to log in and play), though training games are available against a challenging AI opponent. Battle Ball is free to play; there is an optional $14.95 one-time fee for a lifetime membership that unlocks additional rules options and removes the daily coin limit. So if you like it, you can certainly invest a humble amount of money to support the developer. In addition, you can actually cash in your game coins for real money (2000 coins = $20), though you have to play a whole heck of a lot for that amount to accumulate.

The controls for the more basic challenge mode involve simply moving the mouse to return the ball. If you are moving while you hit the ball, spin will be added, making the ball curve and subsequently more difficult for your opponent to return. You can also play with more advanced (meaning complicated) competition controls that involve rotating your paddle with the WASD keys and using the mouse button to apply power when you hit the ball. This adds another layer of complexity to the game and should satisfy the needs of more veteran players. Like in volleyball, you must serve in order to score (something it took me a couple of games to realize) and the first person to the predetermined limit wins. Physics in Battle Ball seem to be accurate; the use of varied arena shapes (boxes, tubes, hexagons) can make for some interesting trajectories. The gameplay of Battle Ball has just enough depth to keep you interested for a while. In addition, the online matches are quick (usually only a couple of minutes) so you never get bored by drawn-out games.

Battle Ball is an online-oriented title. Challenges are made to other players in the lobby, and you can customize the game rules and bet on your contest using the in-game currency. Paid members can introduce rotating levels and varied score limits to the rules, while everyone can adjust the amount of gravity and air resistance for a more (or less) difficult game. Most of the players seem to be from Europe as the server is popular around 3 P.M. Eastern (8-10 P.M. in Europe) and the competitors speak languages I am not smart enough to understand. Battle Ball does offer several “happy hours” that offer bonus coins to encourage people to be online simultaneously. The betting system in Battle Ball is well designed: it gives incentive for beginners to play expert players, as you can request different levels of bets for each player. In addition, you can also bet on other people’s games (and make a good amount of money from it); the amount you win is determined by the bets made on your opponent. You don’t even have to play to enjoy Battle Ball: you can just satisfy your gambling problem by betting on other players (and it’s all fake money, so no harm is done). Stats for each player are tracked and recorded online, so you can size up your competition in-game or on the web. You can level up your character and increase your paddle skills, although this is a slow process unless you defeat some heavily favored opponents. Battle Ball also offers organized tournaments if you are in to that sort of thing.

Despite appearances, Battle Ball is an enjoyable online game. The mechanics are intuitive, the online features are robust, and the gameplay is quite addictive. Presenting two levels of control makes the game challenging for both beginning and experienced players. The betting system allows for another level of interest in the game beyond simply playing matches. Games are certainly intense if the score is close (and even if it’s not) thanks to the short match length. The online community seems friendly and fair; I certainly had a much more enjoyable time playing Battle Ball as a beginning player than Threadspace: Hyperbol. And it’s free. So there’s no reason not to check it out!