Thursday, May 3

Review: Skee-Ball [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While I always loved going to arcades to enjoy my video game favorites and pinball machines, even before the world went to hell with the redemption game takeover, there were some classic skill games that I always appreciated. Skee-Ball has been around pretty well forever, and has always been something I’ve returned to for a few games here and there to see if I’ve still got it. It’s pretty simple on paper: Roll your ball with a certain degree of angle and force up the lane and try to get it to jump off the ramp into holes with assigned point values. Do your best, tally your score, and you’ll usually be rewarded with some tickets depending on how well you do. Now you can have some elements of that experience at home with an officially licensed version of the game on Switch.

Almost all of the same principles apply in this version whether it is the classic target layout, starting out with 9 balls, or looking to see how many tickets you’ve gotten once you’re done… but thankfully there’s much more to it than that, you’ll just have to work for it. Since we’re playing the game virtually there are a variety of options for play, including different target layouts, play modes, challenges that will unlock new ball types, and periodic changes for bonus tickets and special bonus balls. All said there’s actually quite a staggering amount of content available, the question is whether you’ll invest the time and effort to unlock it all.

The trick to most of these alternative playfields and modes is that you’ll need to do some grinding to earn enough tickets to unlock them all, and depending on your level of skill that could potentially take a while, at least to get rolling. Starting out with only the standard play style, the original layout, and 2 additional holiday-themed layouts, you’ll need to work to accumulate enough tickets to level up and unlock some things. The special bonus opportunities that show up every few games are definitely your best bet, but earning them can be tricky. Whether your goal is to get more than a certain number of points, get 3 balls into a specific scoring hole, or get a very specific combined score these do a reasonably good job of making you work your core skills. For each game mode there’s also an unlockable special ball that will have bonus properties and look a bit cooler, these are earned by matching a specific objective in 5 different games. My suggestion, if you’re looking to grind as quickly as possible, would be to unlock Speed Ball mode first where you have unlimited balls for 2 minutes… and that will let you accumulate tickets quite a bit quicker with far higher per-game scores.

What’s holding it back the most currently, aside from it being a relatively niche experience to begin with, is that Skee-Ball is a very tactile experience and the current control options don’t do a great job of replicating that. The developer has told me that they’re working on a patch to add motion controls, and depending on how they’re implemented this may help greatly. Your best overall option right now is to play the game in handheld mode and use the touchscreen, which does provide a somewhat tactile experience and allows you to be far faster for modes like Speed Ball. Docked you’ll be limited to using the joycons which work well enough but really diminish the experience of it all. I would imagine the hope is that once motion controls have been added it would be possible to get an almost Wii-era feel to the game and that may help things greatly as well as make playing with a friend a bit more exciting.

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with Skee-Ball and how its implemented on Switch, it would probably benefit from some tweaking. Right now starting up the game fresh feels like quite a climb to really get into a groove and have more fun. The alternative modes and playfield layouts really add some flavor to things but the initial grinding to get any of it is discouraging. If the tickets required to unlock things were perhaps more progressive, with the price going up for each new unlock rather than all of them beginning with the same static value, it could take the same effort to unlock everything but allow for rewards to people earlier on. Once it is patched with motion controls if they’re implemented fairly well I think the overall experience could also benefit greatly. For now it is more of a novelty that shows promise, but feels a bit pricey and could benefit from some tweaking to meet its potential.

Score: 6

  • Once new playfields and modes are unlocked things get more interesting
  • Touchscreen controls are pretty accurate
  • Bonus challenges are absolutely worth trying to earn as their rewards will help you accumulate tickets far faster

  • Until motion controls are implemented you really lose the overall tactile Skee-Ball experience
  • JoyCon controls are your only current option in docked mode and may work but are cumbersome and less fun
  • The need to do so much grinding feels at odds with the somewhat high asking price