Balls are great. You can roll them, bounce them, pass them to people, hit people with them, use them to play with your dog, and many other activities. Eventually, they get worn down and need to be tossed out and replaced, and that’s when the balls ascend to Ballhalla to receive their reward. Before they can get to Ballhalla, they need to travel on the Road to Ballhalla and complete tasks to prove their worth. In Road to Ballhalla, you get to help with that. Is this a road worth taking, or should we find a different path?
Okay, so I’ll admit I mostly made that up. There’s very little story in Road to Ballhalla, which is fine. There is quite a bit of witty writing and bad puns, however. Every stage contains text floating around the challenges that mock you, gives less-than-useful advice and makes bad puns about the situation. It’s quite entertaining and I often found the text to be very funny. Also, Road to Ballhalla has a weird sorta-meta attempt at an ending, because it’s an indie game in 2016 and I’m pretty sure that’s on a checklist by now.
Your goal in each stage is to simply roll the ball you control to the end of the stage and get into the hole. The only action you have, besides basic movement, is to activate a boost that speeds you up, causing anything that hits you to be an instant kill. Despite these simple controls, you’ll be accomplishing quite a bit in the game. Dodging lasers and bullets, jumping over gaps, avoiding health-draining floors, and more are found as you progress through the campaign. While you could just watch the patterns of the traps, Road to Ballhalla takes some elements from rhythm games and all traps in the game move along to a beat. It helps make timing easier, and it also provides the game with a killer original soundtrack that made each level enjoyable, as I always wanted to see what the game would play next.
Most of the stages were really fun, offering up a creative use of simple mechanics. Deviously placed lasers would cause me to really think about the best paths to be taking. At the same time, I was also trying to decide if the risk of taking a longer optional path was worth the reward of getting all the orbs in a single level. For example, one level saw the ball getting a case of the hiccups, causing it to bounce every few seconds. You had to time your rolls and hit boosts so that you’ll bounce right when you get to a gap and jump it. Go too soon or too late and you’ll end up dropping into the gap. Other levels had me using time travel to get through a blocked area, running away from rolling boulders, using short moments of invincibility to avoid traps, or manipulating a falling rock to block lasers.
Sadly, not every stage introduces a worthwhile mechanic. One level sees the camera constantly shifting, your controls moving with it. This quickly stops being fun, instead falling to a frustrating experience of just trying to get you killed by changing the controls at random to add in artificial difficulty. One especially awful part during that level actually sees your ball leaving the camera area, forcing you to have to figure out incorrect controls combined with not actually being able to see your ball. Another level sees the game turn gray-scale for a bit, slowing the game to a crawl as you need to advance through a field of orbs. Normally orange orbs give you points while red orbs hurt you, but without color, you have to rely on the slight magnetic pull orange orbs have to you to tell the difference. Thankfully, these tedious segments are more of a rarity.
It took me about four hours to get through Road to Ballhalla‘s campaign, and that time can be significantly reduced by repeat players and those with greater skill. Each time you finish a level, you can earn up to eight squares from it. Four based on how many times you died and four based on how many orange orbs you collected. You use these squares to unlock new levels and customization options so you can make your ball the prettiest ball on the grid. The hub world has its fair share of secrets you can discover, but the square requirements are low enough that I never had to go back and replay a level to continue advancing. After you finish the campaign the game also lets you replay levels in a time trial mode to earn stars, which unlocks its own special areas in the hub world. It’s a nice bonus that I didn’t really feel the need to bother with all that much.
Road to Ballhalla is a fun little distraction that I enjoyed for a few hours. It’s not something I’m actually going to return to in the future, but for while it lasted I had quite a bit of entertainment. It knows what it’s doing and it does it well often enough, making this road actually worth traveling.
Road to Ballhalla was played on Steam using a copy provided by tinyBuild.
Road to Ballhalla provides fun levels and interesting ideas wrapped in an awesome soundtrack. Not all of its ideas are winners, but more than enough manage to be to keep this ball rolling.