Saturday, August 4

Review: Road to Ballhalla [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I have an admission to make, I’m a massive fan of the arcade classic Marble Madness and I’m absolutely pissy that nobody has really picked up the ball and run with anything quite like its unique style of play. There have been a few limited attempts over time that have gotten somewhere in its vicinity, but nothing has captured its spirit. I’m happy to say that Road to Ballhalla may be the closest anything has gotten that I’ve played, though obviously playing with a analog stick isn’t quite the same as using a trackball. That said, the reason it’s not a style of game people usually attempt is that it’s probably not going to be for everyone.


The first thing you’ll notice is that aside from the somewhat unusual style of play the game has a wicked sense of humor at times. If you’re playing in handheld mode this may unfortunately be easy to appreciate as the in-game text is just on the edge of readability but as you’re learning the ropes the messages of encouragement and even trolling help to entertain. Everything else here is about skill, planning, and execution as your only ability is to roll your ball around and boost for short distances.


Obstacles, traps, and hazards of all kinds are slowly introduced as you get into deeper levels and they’ll test you in different ways. While they vary a bit in how you’ll need to deal with them, in particular I’m not a fan of the hidden floor tiles as they just feel a bit cheap and can be very hard to make out when playing in handheld mode. Other than that, some have patterns you’ll need to follow, some will require speed and timing, and others will put demands on your precision. While many hazards will sap your health some will also instantly kill you, making you go back to your last checkpoint. For the most part the spacing and placement of the checkpoints is quite generous (though in some situations they’ll reset elements, creating new planning challenges) so it typically feels quite fair. As a warning, though, some stages get sparse and can be aggravating as death will take you back a substantial distance.


In many regards it’s likely the game’s style and what you may be looking to experience that will have the greatest influence on whether it’s something you should add to your library. The mix of precision, strategy, and tension can be a lot of fun but the nature of the play could also bore people looking for a bit more of a visceral experience. However, if you’re looking for something off the beaten path that will throw a variety of challenges at you Road to Ballhalla is a refreshing change of pace.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • May be the closest game I’ve seen to the arcade classic Marble Madness
  • The nature of challenge changes often
  • For the most part the analog control is responsive and spot-on

Cons:
  • The levels with hidden floor tiles can be aggravating in handheld mode as their highlighting when you’re near them can be hard to make out
  • The pacing, style, and degree of difficulty may not be for everyone