Review: Magic Ball (Sony PS3)

magic-ball-tsMagic Ball
Developer: Tik Games
Publisher: Creat Studio
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 01/15/2009

Much like Cate West: The Vanishing Files, Magic Ball started off as a downloadable game for the PC. Due to its success there (Again much like Cate West), the developers, Tik Games. have retooled Magic Ball and brought it to the PS3. As a $9.95 download. So how does this Breakout clone hold up? After Square-Enix’s remake of Arkanoid, does Magic Ball give the block breaking puzzle subgenre a one-two punch, or does it fizzle out?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

magicball1There’s not a lot here in Magic Ball, but what is here is a lot of fun. There are two episodes, one with a pirate theme and the other featuring knights. Each episode as 24 levels, for a grand total of 48. There is a spot in the game for a third episode, which implies downloadable content is on its way. Considering the first two I won’t be surprised if Ninjas is the third theme. You have to play the Pirates first to get to the knights, but once you beat a level it is permanently unlocked.

The other option you have is multiplayer. Here you can either play with a friend or compete against them for a higher score. You can only play levels that you have previously unlocked. My experiences with multiplayer weren’t that great as I was unaware I could only cover half the screen and the other people I ende dup being paired with appeared to be mildly retarded when it came to the object of the game, i.e., keeping the ball in play.

As you can see, there’s really not a lot here. You can playthrough both episodes in about three hours. For $9.99 this isn’t bad, but for double your price, the DS Arkanoid remake does offer a lot more level wise, even if it’s blown away by the thematic bits in Magic Ball.

Modes Rating: Poor

2. Graphics

I love the theme aspect of this game. Unlike other brick breaking puzzles which are generally quite sterile or bland, Magic Ball comes close to completely reinventing the genre. Instead of breaking bricks, you’re breaking castles, crossbows, trees, fields, pirate ships, giant sharks, dragons and more.

Obviously Magic Ball is not going to go head to head with the visuals of say, Metal Gear Solid 4, but this is one of the best looking games I’ve downloaded from the PS3 store yet. The character models of the knights, princesses and so on are about PSX level quality, but then they are bricks and there’s so much on the screen, this isn’t too much of a surprise. I was impressed by aspects like wind, lighting, various explosions and more. Quite possibly the best visuals in the game comes when you collect the night power up. As the game shifts from day into night it is quite impressive to see the use of colour, shading, and the texturing of the game. If you’ve ever seen the PC versions of Magic Ball, this new PS3 game blows them away.

Again, the thematic aspects of the game transform the bricks into a whole new way of looking at them, and it’s pretty revolutionary for this subgenre of puzzle gaming. Half of the appeal for me was smashing castle towers or watching my ball with the iron ball power up steamroll a field of daises.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

magicball2I’m not really a fan of the music in this game. There are only two tracks, one for each episode theme and they will get on your nerves quickly, especially if you just outright suck at a particular level and the music begins to feel like an evil taunt ala the dog in Duck Hint.

The sound effects however are brilliant. The dragons roar, the princesses cry out, castle crumble, wind blows with realistic wooshing noises and lighting crackles like the real thing. I was very impressed with all the little noises and nuances presented here, and the sound effects and voice acting never failed to bring a smile to my face.

In short, the music grates and the effects delight.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

Controls for these type of games are pretty simple. You bat the ball at bricks, trying to clear the board. You lose a life if the ball gets past your paddle. Play until you beat the game or lose all your lives. Repeat until done. I’m happy to say the game plays pretty well for the most part. You can use your D pad or analog stick to move the paddle and the controls are spot on here and there’s no lag what so ever, even if you have nine balls in play. The fact that this was possible without any slowdown is quite impressive.

There is one noted bug in the game that I’ve found and I want to warn you about it now because it will make you lose your ball literally dozens of times, if not more. If you have your paddle wedged against the side of the board, you would assume that the ball can’t fall down the crack like in other games of this nature. Not here. Here there is some sort of detection issue and on multiple occasions I watched the ball go through my paddle and I lost a life. This will happen on either side of the board and this little quality control snafu caused me to swear loudly several times, especially when I was on my last life. I’m still pretty shocked this got through, but it is what it is. The way around this is to keep the paddle slightly away from the corner and if the ball comes that way, you have to slam it into the side. That’s the only way the game will detect the paddle is at that location. Frustrating, I know.

The ball physics are again, mostly solid. Occasionally there is an odd ball issues where it zigs left instead of zagging right, or the ball goes in the wrong direction for the angle it hit. This will only be a real irritant to those who want a billiards like physics reality, but considering you’re smashing pirates ships and siege engines, I was able to live with this. It didn’t stop me from the old, “No way! You stupid game!” type comments.

So the controls and physics aren’t as refined or tight as Araknoid, but considering the game has over two dozen power ups that range from paddle growth to instant death(!), Magic Ball‘s combination of style and substance makes up for some of the gameplay defects.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

magicball3One of the things I really enjoyed was that Magic Ball saves for your progress with each level and that you can quit a game at any time and return to it. Very few brick break games allow you to do this and as such, you never see the end of the game. Thankfully Magic Ball is one of the few with continues and as such, it is easily accessible to casual and hardcore gamers alike.

As mentioned earlier, once you beat a level, it is permanently unlocked, giving you the ability to replay it whenever you choose. This is also helpful if you’re trying to get the two silver trophies as they are level specific. Multiplayer adds a bit more to the replay value, but I suggest playing with someone you know as those with short fuses will probably blow up at a stranger who is less skilled them that at this game. Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of people suffer from Breakout or Arkanoid rage.

This is a pretty short no frills game compared to other brick break games, but thanks to some very intricate level designs and the wacky pirates and medieval themes, Magic Ball will have you coming back for more, or at least until you’ve unlocked all the trophies.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

6. Balance

Balance is probably where Magic Ball is at its weakest. Besides the corner glitch, the power-ups in each level are purely random. This is very different from other brick break games where specific power-ups are assigned to specific bricks on specific levels. As such, Magic Ball‘s difficulty ebbs and flows and a good part of the game’s challenge depends on what power ups show up. For example, there are some levels with iron fences that balls can’t go through unless you have a power up called “Iron Ball.” If one of these doesn’t show up, you basically have to hope for the best. One time you play you could get two or three of them in the level. The next time you play that level, there might not be any. Such is life, but this also dramatically changes the difficulty of levels.

magicball4As well, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the order the levels occur in the game. The knights episodes are harder than the pirate ones, but the levels don’t get progressively harder as you go on. Oddly enough 2-12 or so was the hardest level in the game for me because the blocks are built almost to the bottom of the screen and due to the closeness, the corner glitch is constantly triggered. Yet after I finally got past it, there was nothing but smooth sailing until 2-22 and 2-23. 2-24, the final level in the game, was one of the easiest of them all. Again, due to the lack of any reason planning, there is no difficulty curve or slight increase of challenge with each level. It’s just wacky across the board.

Power-ups play a big part in the game. What of the things I discovered (and loved) was that some power ups stack. For example, the growth power up, which gives you a bigger paddle can be collected two or three times to make a HUGE paddle. This is great, but it also makes it nigh impossible to die. On the other hand there is, Crazy Ball, which causes the ball to move in an erratic and nonsensical pattern, ignoring the physics engine completely. As you may imagine, this is going to be the power up you grow to hate with a slow burning passion. Thankfully, you can always avoid these power-ups by moving your paddle away.

Worst of all the power ups in the Golden Skull, which causes instant death. I really hated these and their inclusion in the game especially as they always seem to fall in such a way that if you don’t collect them, you’ll miss your ball. So either way, it’s dead city, population: YOU.

In all, Magic Ball could have used some tweaking in terms of the order of the levels so as to create a more organic feel to how the levels occur. The physics engine could have used some fine tuning and that damn corner glitch should have been fixed. All these things are small flaws when taken on their own, but they do add up to create a noticeable level of frustration when playing through Magic Ball. Thankfully the humour, uniqueness of the game and level designs outweigh the bad, but the game still is poorly balanced compared to many other brick break titles.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

Brick break games have been around since the earliest days of video gaming. With this in mind, it’s quite telling that Magic Ball comes pretty close to reinventing the wheel. Which thematic puzzles, innovative puzzle designs, and the most original level layouts I’ve ever encountered in this genre, it’s very easily to fall in love with this game. Magic Ball offers gamers a completely new way to do a brick break puzzle and although it’s shallower than Arkanoid, it’s far more fun to smack a horse or dragon horde than it is to hit a simple collection of bricks. Effects like earthquake and wind which can totally change the board’s layout adds a new level of strategy and play mechanics that other brick break games lack. Magic Ball may not be the first game of its ilk, but it’s certainly the most innovation this genre has seen in decades.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

magicball5Magic Ball is an extremely addicting game. I was glued to my PS3 for several hours until I finally beat the damn thing. Even was I was stuck on one or two levels in the knights section and had to replay the level about two dozen times thanks to the corner glitch, i couldn’t but the Sixxaxis down. I loved the mechanics, and the sheer weirdness of the levels. I kept telling myself, “Just one more level.” But it never was. I kept wanting to see what was next. I wanted to see how the next level looked and what sort of items would show up. I would notice I only needed 200,000 more points to unlock the “Millionaire’s Club” trophy or beat two more levels to get the “25 in a Row” trophy. I’m not even remotely concerned with PS3 trophies normally. This was just a justification for me to play more and more Magic Ball!

Even when the game is at its most frustrating, you’ll want to keep playing. It’s that fun and silly. I haven’t had this much fun with a puzzle game in a long time and even though Araknoid received a higher “score” from me when I reviewed it this summer, Magic Ball‘s uniqueness and whimsical sense of humour will have me coming back to this instead of the Taito option.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

Even with its flaws, Magic Ball is the type of game that can be enjoyed by anyone. It doesn’t matter what your age is, it doesn’t matter what your preferred genre is, or even how much of an attention span you have. Magic Ball has that X factor that makes for a high quality game sporting simple controls, addictive gameplay, and enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something once you’ve beaten it. At only $9.99, this is a game I’d recommend to anyone who currently owns a PS3. It’s cheap and fun – what more does one need in a game.

Appeal Factor: Unparalleled

10. Miscellaneous

magicball6For ten dollars, this is a pretty decent purchase. It’s a shallow quick game that you can beat over a weekend, but it’s also one you’ll play again and again. I loved the format as it added some much needed new life to the brick break subgenre. I’m really looking forward to the next set of 24 puzzles for the game (Come on ninjas!) but I’m also expecting the price for the added content to be about five dollars, which would bring the total cost of Magic Ball up to $15. If this is in fact the case, then we start to see why the Taito/S-E remake of Arkanoid is the better bang for your buck. Same cost, but with more modes, levels, unlockables, and better multiplayer options. Here’s hoping we see the DLC for Magic Ball at a more wallet friendly rate of about $1.99 -$2.99, but the skeptic in mean expects to be paying a lot more than that.

Yes Magic Ball is fun, and I can’t deny I’ve enjoyed this game more than any other title I’ve snagged from the PS store besides Siren: Blood Curse, but when you look at the cost per the amount of what you’re getting under a microscope, you see that Arkanoid really does supply the brick break fan with a better depth to cost ratio. Now if uniqueness and innovation is more your thing, then buy all means, grab this game.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Magic Ball is a fun new addition to the brick break genre of puzzle gaming. With innovative new levels, layouts and puzzle designs, Magic Ball stands out from every other game in the genre. Be warned that this doesn’t mean Magic Ball isn’t without its flaws. It’s short, has severe game ending collision detection issues when your paddle is against the corner of the board, and Arkanoid for the DS provides more levels and options than the 48 levels Magic Ball contains. Still, there’s never been a more innovative title for the subgenre, and Magic Ball with its premise of smashing pirates and knights instead of bricks is a sure fire hit for any gamer who decides to download it.

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