It’s hard to write much about Kid Ball Adventure. More than any game we’ve played this year, it is simple. It’s not interested in story or unlocks. It doesn’t aspire to anything fancy, and couldn’t care less for innovation. It’s got one idea, one button to use it, and then constructs 100 levels around the two. Bish bash bosh.
Depending on your view, it will either be pointlessly regressive, or refreshing. We’re of the latter mindset. It’s cool to play a game that knows what it is, and doesn’t overreach itself.
You are a ball. Your partner, another ball (no gender attributed here), is taken by a dragon to a faraway castle. So, you chase after them. And when we say chase, we really mean ‘bounce’, as bounce is the one and only thing that you can do in Kid Ball Adventure.
You start the journey to recover your partner-ball over 100 levels. Every ten levels, your paramour is taken to a new castle, with slightly different brick hues, and the odd obstacle introduced.
A level fits snugly onto one screen. There’s a key to be found within it somewhere, and an exit door too. Find the key, and the door opens. Get killed while holding the key, and it will be yanked from your spherical grasp and returned to its spot, so there’s a tense moment as you covetously hold the key and try to reach the door without dying.
And you bounce, of course. It’s a long, looping arc that gives you plenty of room to maneuver mid-air and jump over spinning blades, balls on chains, and weird blobs that look like legionnaire helmets (we hated those guys). Patience is the key, as there’s no time limit: you’re waiting for the moment when moving platforms and enemies align, giving you a clear bouncing route to the key and then exit.
We’ve been here before in 2022. Dadish 3’s Momato levels felt incredibly similar, and a 79p game called Red Ball Escape used the same concept. But there’s something in the execution here that makes Kid Ball Adventure superior. There’s something in the alchemy of the bounce, the way it hangs slightly longer in the air, that makes you feel more in control. The obstacles, too, are both intuitive and generous, giving you plenty of leeway to navigate around them. We found ourselves gliding around levels without a hitch.
But like Red Ball Escape and Dadish 3, the concept of bouncing, as a whole, has some inherent problems. You can’t choose when you move: you have to wait until the automated bounce is at the precise height you want before making a move. That rubs up awkwardly against the patrol routes of enemies and the movement of platforms. You can be sat impatiently, waiting for all three of them to align. Worse, if you are time-pressured – trying to recalibrate after a failed jump, for example, and faced with enemies – it can feel unfairly impossible. Your bounce doesn’t match the other elements of the level, so you are doomed and left wondering if there actually was a way out. We haven’t found a game of this ilk that’s managed to solve the problem. Bouncing can leave you to the fates.
There’s also no denying that Kid Ball Adventure is stubbornly, relentlessly simple, and there are problems that come with that. Without any other buttons, moves or upgrades, there are only so many things you can do with lolloping bounce. You can jump over things, or you can time bounces to go under things. While Kid Ball Adventure nobly does what it can with limited ingredients, it’s 100 levels of familiarity.
The counter-argument is a strong one. Nothing is broken here. Everything works as intended, and the control – the one, single control – feels responsive. Levels are well-designed, and there’s a generosity of hitboxes that means you’re not going to die if a pixel nicks a spike. It may be a simple toy, but it’s hardy and well made, and there’s room on the Xbox Store for that kind of thing.
Although, we will file one complaint. We’re not a fan of the lives system. Lose all of your many lives, and you are returned to the last level that’s divisible by five. On the later levels, when things get difficult and lives get shed easily, we didn’t care for being warped back up to four (particularly problematic) levels. It felt like there was a better, more welcoming solution available.
Counterpoint to that? It’s a font of achievements. Get to level twenty-five and you will already have 1000G. It’s hard to play some levels as the achievements keep popping, covering important parts of the screen. They come that thick and fast.
We could sneer and deride Kid Ball Adventure for being a one-trick game, with one move, no real story and 100 levels for it to pad out. But there’s a purity about it, as it holds onto its one bounce mechanic, ignores any other gimmicks or systems, and produces something that’s as simple as it is fun. Don’t expect anything special from it, and Kid Ball Adventure will give you a spring in your step.
You can buy Kid Ball Adventure from the Xbox Store