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Ballotron Review


Ballotron dredged up some memories of, of all things, Red Dwarf. There’s a scene where Lister plays ‘space billiards’, using a spaceship as a cue and ricocheting planets off each other and into a black hole. We wonder if Cool-Two Interactive, the developers of Ballotron, are Red Dwarf fans too, as it’s a pretty handy description of what happens within the game. 

In Ballotron, you don’t have control of all of the planets or balls. You have control of the smallest, but those small balls can be fired with a fair amount of momentum at the other, bigger balls. This is done via a kind of rubber-band. The further back you pull, the farther – and faster – your ball travels. Think Angry Birds or a snooker sim and you’re there. 

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Now, when you hit the larger balls with your smaller balls, you cause them to spin off in wild directions. Again, we’re back in snooker sim territory, which Ballotron shares a deal of DNA with. Graze the side of the larger ball and it will lurch in a more sideways direction. Hit it head on, and the ball will blast forward. 

Your aim is to get one of these larger balls to hit a green ball which represents the end of the level. It doesn’t matter if they lightly kiss or bounce on each other: any contact is good enough. Once that happens, the green ball explodes, sending pieces of the level into wild directions, and you can move on to the next.

What complicates matters is the detritus in the way. It’s not as simple as leathering the blue balls at the exit and moving on. Well, it’s not always that easy. That’s because a variety of blocks often hinder your passage, and the blocks have different properties. Some blocks offer minor resistance, but there’s still a chance that Ballotron’s physics engine will cause you to ricochet in an unfortunate direction. Other blocks are immovable, and are best used as walls to bounce off. Yet more are hazardous, while others can only be crossed by balls of a certain colour. 

Much of Ballotron is figuring out the approach that has the most chance of success. A series of angled, immovable blocks are a helpful prompt that you might want to bounce off of them. Hazardous blocks are a clue that you should bounce round them. There is also a single, gold coin on the game screen – a collectible if you should choose to chase after it – and this can also be a hint toward the right angle of approach. Every level gives you that nagging feeling that you should be attempting it differently. 

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Ballotron is, rather simply, a game of snooker with a load of crap on the table. I had a pool table in university digs that had more drinking glasses than balls on it, and it’s not too dissimilar from what we find here. Ballotron is about navigating the chaos to pull off a nifty trick-shot.

The question of whether or not that’s fun is a difficult one, and our answers would have been different at various points. At its worst, Ballotron can feel completely and utterly random. When you’re stuck on a level, the best approach can often be the ‘hit and hope’. Maximise the strength of your shot, aim vaguely at a blue ball, and wait to see if Lady Fate is kind to you. The balls will scatter like an overhit snooker break, and there is every chance that the two balls will miraculously hit. We took this approach a lot of the time, simply because a more considered approach often doesn’t feel like it works. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park could have told us that: a microscopic difference in the direction and power will mean a block gets in the way when it didn’t before. 

Ballotron is at its best when it plays less like a chaos theory demonstration, and more like a puzzle. That’s when the red mist cleared and we felt ourselves enjoying things more. When it’s improbable and perhaps impossible to complete the level randomly, and we had to think steps through, we found our mental cogs whirring. Perhaps we needed to sacrifice some smaller balls to clear a path for the bigger ball? Or even bounce off the smaller balls? These kinds of solutions are where Balloton flourishes. 

But there are still the odd niggles, even down that path. It takes an age to wind up a full-power shot, as you have to pull back the band like a catapult. But when you are switching between smaller balls at speed – perhaps you want to fire a blue ball towards another smaller ball, so you can one-two your way to victory – it’s incredibly fiddly to pull off. In fact, any puzzle that relies on using one ‘cue ball’ after another, in sequence, feels ungainly. Ballotron isn’t built for that. 

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It’s probably time for the announcement, too. Ballotron has been getting a bit of gaming press recently, as it’s thoroughly abusing the good old Microsoft achievement. You see, it has received not one but two title updates, and each one has added 1000 Gamerscore. That means that Ballotron is now up to 3000 Gamerscore total, which makes us want to grab Norris McWhirter to find out if that’s a new Guinness World Record. You don’t have to do much for it, either. Get halfway through the game’s levels and you will have rinsed every last one of that 3000. Whether it’s a positive thing or not is down to you. They certainly won’t feel earned. 

For all of our complaints about randomness, and the hit-and-hope nature of some of the levels, which can make them more like pinball than puzzles, we never felt truly enraged by Ballotron. It’s a simple, easy game that we breezed through. It’s not unpleasant to watch and listen to, either, with a clear presentation that’s somewhere between Bust-a-Move and Flow. 

Ballotron shows a bit of leg with 3000 Gamerscore for barely an hour’s effort. Dirty achievement hussies will already be getting out their wallet. But for anyone who’s looking for entertainment, Ballotron can feel, in two ways, hit-and-miss. When it’s good, it’s a trickshot simulator, a snooker-like puzzle to be solved. When it’s bad, it’s a meeting of slippery physics and complete chaos. Pick a level and flip the coin.

You can buy Ballotron from the Xbox Store

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