All we want from our games are for them to be simple and effective. Of course, there’s room for manoeuvre in terms of taking that simplicity and building upon it, adding in fancy visuals, cracking sound and the most immersive narratives. But for the most part, as long as something works, and it works well, we’re happy.
Ball laB is certainly one of those games which is trying to keep things as simple as it possibly can, hoping and praying that it delivers the effectiveness as it goes. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t. Not really.
A simple ball-themed puzzler, Ball laB from Viktor Yurchuk, Ratalaika Games and Eastasiasoft has you controlling a little ball; left to hop, skip and jump your way across multiple platforms and chasms in order to reach an end goal. Hit it and you’ll find the stage you’re on changing up, mostly building out on what went before it with further platforms, more chasms and a ton more spikes. If you’re lucky you’ll find the odd moving platform in place, or a number of different paths to consider, but for the most part, it’s the jumping and navigation of spike traps that Ball laB plays on.
That, pretty much, is the entirety of Ball laB – move your ball with the precision required in order to make it to the end, rinsing and repeating actions over the 60 levels which come into play.
It never really moves on from there either. Granted, a few new mechanics arrive at specific intervals, but mostly you’re using your left thumbstick to move and your A button to jump, with the length and intensity of the press of the latter dictating jump distances and heights. If you so wish you can utilise a little bit of a speed boost, but pressing RB doesn’t exactly see your ball begin to ping around; a gentle increase to your gliding movement is about all that it actions.
You’ll need to become one with this little ball though, and that is because mostly the stages themselves are tight affairs. There’s very often little room for inaccuracy, and hopping between spike traps for instance always leaves you on edge, particularly as jumping those on the floor may mean you slam straight into others which are ceiling or wall based.
Thankfully, with every wrong move and death, Ball laB will instantly fling you back into the action, dropping you at the start of each stage once again. This respawn is pretty immediate so there will be absolutely no hanging around as you wait for levels to load or resets to occur.
This means that whilst progression through Ball laB is very much dictated by your own movement speed, it can occasionally feel like a super swift platformer, all as you get in the swing of things and find yourself jumping between traps. When it goes wrong though – and it will – it’ll be one of the most frustrating games you have ever played. I’m a fairly calm, laid back kinda guy, but have to admit to nearly losing it on some of the stages Ball laB has thrown my way.
It’s not helped by a weird difficulty spike that will have you speeding through multiple stages with ease, before one simple jump starts to be the end of you; over and over again. With tens and maybe hundreds of deaths hitting home in these moments, Ball laB is the absolute worst. You’ll certainly want to take some time away from it every now and then – if not to gather up your thoughts but in hope of getting away from the highly repetitive chip-tuned soundtrack.
Weirdly though, when you do manage to find success, there’s every chance in the world that you’ll then once again see that spike drop right back down to manageable levels, letting you tick off a good few stages without hassle. With Ball laB keeping full track of your number of deaths across the full playthrough though, you’ll always be aware that the next move could well be one of those that sees the difficulty rise again.
Things aren’t particularly helped by the fact that Ball laB doesn’t really allow for the pixel perfect platforming that is required for a game of this type to succeed. Too often hit boxes seem to err on the side of utter death and throughout my time I’ve constantly felt aggrieved by certain respawns. I’m not in any way debating that my skill level hasn’t contributed in some way to the near 1000 deaths that Ball laB has taken from me, but a good few of those are certainly the fault of in-game inaccuracies.
This means that whether you get on with Ball laB or not will ultimately be decided by your patience levels. If you’re looking for a minimalist pixeled grayscale affair which you can drop in to as you see fit, it’ll just about do the business. You will however always need to stay aware, understanding that at times, walking away from Ball laB and forgetting it even exists is for the best.
For the low price and promise of a full Gamerscore haul coming your way within a matter of a few minutes, Ball laB could possibly find a place within your gaming sessions. Unless you have controller throwing tendencies – in which case you should stay well away.
Ball laB is available from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S