As Diablo Immortal makes $20 million in its first week, mostly from a handful of whales dumping tens of thousands on it, we move to the other end of the spectrum and the exact opposite business model. Quietly happy to take 79p from any punter who cares to play it, Red Ball Escape Adventure is the subway busker to Diablo Immortal’s wall street trader.
You probably know the deal by now: the demon pact is that 79p gets you a slight, and occasionally broken, little piece of shovelware, with no achievements to speak of. The majority of these 79p games are risible and not worth your time, and our mission is to sift through them to bring you the best of the bunch.
Red Ball Escape Adventure, perhaps surprisingly, is one of the best of the bunch. It may not offer any Gamerscore, and it’s ugly enough for its parents to disown it, but for the hour that it engages your brain and thumbs, it actually delivers a positive sensation. It is – dare we say it – worth the 79p price.
The concept is extremely simple: you’re a red ball that can’t stop bouncing. You’re not jumping or punching your way to an exit: instead, you’re managing the timing of those bounces so that you can duck under spikes and lollop onto platforms. Most of Red Ball Escape Adventure is spent being patient, waiting for moving platforms to reach you, or for you to bounce on the floor and immediately jab the analogue sticks over to a far-flung ledge. In many ways it’s a rhythm game, as you time your movements to the bounce.
There are – we think (and more on that later) – forty levels here, each not much bigger than the game screen, and with three stars to gather on the way to an exit trampoline. Those three stars are optional, but – in our experience – they are mostly on the critical path and hard to avoid. We’d also go out on a limb to say that Red Ball Escape Adventure is lessened by not going after them. It can be a relatively simple straight line to the exit, so gathering off-piste stars makes the game a smidgeon more enjoyable.
The forty levels are split into ten level chunks, and they each come with their own colour scheme and new mechanic or mechanics to toy with. Our favourites include directional plates that fling you across the level until you press a button to dismount, and magnets that flip gravity so that you’re bouncing on the ceiling (not a revolutionary mechanic, as every platformer seems to employ it nowadays, but it dovetails nicely with the bouncing). These widgets appear often enough to keep things interesting.
It is all over in roughly an hour, maybe slightly less. We’d complain if it wasn’t the price of a Gregg’s sausage roll. There is an asterisk here, though: we don’t think it’s humanly possible to complete level 33 of the game. Now, level 33 out of 40 is a significant way through the game, but it’s still an artificial and unexpected stopping point. You see, there is a jump at the start of the level that is impossible, or at least hugely improbable. We’ve tried it fifty times and failed every time, and we’re reasonably sure that it cannot be done.
It’s a neat segue to one of Red Ball Escape Adventure’s biggest issues: its collision detection. The reason that the jump cannot be done is that the sides of spikes, not the pointy bits, pop the main character before they can complete a jump. It’s a tiny wrinkle in a reasonably satisfying game – very occasionally, you will die when you’re not convinced you should, and that’s because of odd collision rules on spikes.
And while we’re grumbling, we should mention an oddness about the main menus. In the top-left of the level select screen is a shopping basket icon. We’ve accumulated plenty of stars, and we’ve seen enough screenshots and trailers to know that you can change the look of your angry red ball, but for some untold reason, you can’t actually highlight or enter the shop. We’ve spammed buttons, jammed our joystick in its general direction, but we don’t think it’s possible to get there. If this was a bigger budget game, we’d expect the developers to fix this in an upcoming patch. As it stands, we’re not sure they’ll bother.
But away from these two wonkinesses, Red Ball Adventure is a mildly entertaining little diversion. It’s in no way difficult – we completed most levels without impaling our ball on anything – and you will flume all the way to level 33 in no time at all – but it has a single, captivating little mechanic, and it latches onto it. Every last drop of entertainment is wrung from it, with disappearing platforms and leaps of faith also featuring, and there’s something to admire about the efficiency of its levels.
Set some 79p expectations, and you might get a few drops of entertainment from Red Ball Escape Adventure. Its bouncy mechanic is solid, and the levels keep stirring in new ideas to ensure you are never quite bored. Just let us know if you can get past level 33: we’re genuinely interested if it can be done.
You can buy Red Ball Escape Adventure from the Xbox Store