On The Ball is a puzzle game developed by Taito and released for the SNES in 1992. The game is a port of an arcade game called Cameltry and was renamed by Taito for the SNES release. The arcade game was quite interesting because it used the same rotary controller that was used in the 1986 arcade game Arkanoid. The game was also ported to a couple of other consoles in 1993 under the name Cameltry for the FM Towns computer and the Sharp X68000, both exclusively in Japan. The game was also updated and rereleased as Labyrinth for the Nintendo DS in 2007. The game is also compatible with the Super NES Mouse, which was bundled with Mario Paint in 1992. The strange thing which boggles my mind is why the game was renamed for the SNES and not for the other releases. Maybe the name Cameltry might have not sounded appealing to the audience at the time and the changed name does give a clue to the sort of game On The Ball is.
On The Ball is a puzzle game where the objective of each level is to find the goal within the allotted time. There are 4 different courses that the player can undertake, each of them contained 6 levels and each course is of a different difficulty. However, the game labels each course, so that the player will know the difficulty rather than it potentially becoming a guessing game. The amount of time the player will have to beat the levels apart from the first level of the course is affected by how well the player plays through the previous levels.
The first thing I will talk about is the mechanics themselves, which in concept are quite simple because the way the player controls the marble in the maze by pretty left and right to rotate the board. The player does have direct control of the ball itself, but more rotating the maze to guide the ball in the right direction. I found this mechanic to actually be quite refreshing because most maze and labyrinth games have the player guiding the character or item through the maze by moving the object or character, rather than the maze rotating. This allows for some quite precise control over the direction of the marble. I feel that the gravity of the marble is perfect because there is a real feeling of weight and momentum as the marble rolls down the maze. There are never moments where I felt that the weight of the marble caused any issues and was more the errors I made and not knowing what the course layout was.
There are specific mechanics and powerups within the levels themselves that I really like and I feel adds a lot more to these mazes rather than feeling recycled. For example, there are wooden blocks that will need to be broken to progress and unless the marble has enough momentum, then the block won’t break. There are specific blocks that can be broken, which can add time to the timer, which the player will be required to do in the later stages.
The graphics of the game for me are rather mixed because there are certain aspects I like and some I don’t like. The first thing I like about the graphics is that when the player is rotating the board, the maze does not become blurry and the graphics continue to look clean. The detailing on the marble sprite and the blocks of the maze is perfectly detailed and I feel that if it was more detailed, it might have caused blurring when rotating the maze. The aspects I don’t like is that the background does not rotate with the maze, but is rather just a static image. Maybe some scrolling on the background as the player goes through the maze would have been a nice detail, but it is only a small aspect. Then again, if it did scroll it could cause some issues when the player rotates the maze because everything would be rotating and could cause some issues with dizziness for the player.
The game is split into 4 difficulties, with the first 2 difficulties being easier difficulties and the easiest difficulty being a tutorial.I do think that the difficulty arc is absolutely perfect because the early stages are simple and easy to understand, whilst the later sections of the game introduce some new mechanics, but the new, more complex later levels don’t feel forced. I feel that the first 2 difficulties are relatively simple and I feel that these levels really help the player get used to the mechanics of the game without the levels becoming too complex. Once the player gets to the second half of the game, it gets quite a bit more difficult because the player would need to understand the new mechanics and also avoid certain maze walls that takes 2 seconds of the player’s timer.
There is an issue in some of the stages where when there are lots of blocks on the screen at the same time, the frame rate tends to drop somewhat, making controlling the marble somewhat more difficult. I definitely think that this is more an issue of the power of the SNES itself than a design fault of the game because apart from these small issues of slowdown, the game runs really smoothly. The rotation speed of the maze is about right, although I found after playing the game for a while I would feel somewhat dizzy. There is not a way to change the sensitivity of the maze rotation, which I feel would have maybe not caused this dizziness with me, but then again this rotation speed might be perfect for other players.
The final thing of note is the fact that the time limit I found to be quite lenient and there were very few occasions until the highest difficulty when I found myself running out of time. The highest difficulty has complicated level design and requires a lot of precision to them. This might be the sort of game that would be suit a younger audience because the game is almost too fair on the difficulty. The stages do have arrows as well pointing to where the player should be going, but the player in some stages can decide which route to take with some routes offering the player time and point bonuses.
The music of On The Ball is quite interesting because the music tracks have some unique sound effects throughout the pieces, which makes some of the pieces both sound memorable, but also quirky at the same time. The music fits the stages really well and the sound design does not sound out of the place within the compositions. I really like the music because it is quite experimental in terms of composition style, but I feel that it works well and other music might have sounded out of place. The sound design from the game itself away from the music is balanced nicely with the music being somewhat louder than the sound design. However, the music is not the sort of music that can be listened to away from the game because the aesthetic of the game makes the music feel more at home within the game.
On The Ball is quite the unique experience because it is not the sort of game that was really around at the time of the game’s release. The mechanics of the game are quite interesting and rotating the maze rather than controlling the ball directly was a welcome spin of labyrinth/maze type games. The difficulty curve of the game feels really fair and I definitely think that there could have been more sets of levels as the game can be completed in about 1 to 2 hours. However, I found the game to be really charming and I definitely think the game is a good game for what it is.
Copyright ©2017 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use