REVIEW: Ball of Woe [Apple/Android]
Title: Ball of Woe
Platform: Apple/iOS & Android mobile devices (played on iPhone)
Developer: Doppler Interactive
Release Dates: Available now (December 3, 2012)
Tagline: They see me Ballin’ (They hatin’)
TL;DR: Refreshingly unique, darkly funny “Ball-Puffing God” game
Family Friendly: Click here for more information.
Verdict: Try it! Good and free.
Ball of Woe is one of those concepts so strange and inherently intriguing that trying to describe it concisely makes you sound absolutely crazy. Sometimes, however, absolutely crazy concepts just click, and you know that you’re experiencing something cool even if you can’t quite put it into words.
Allow me to try: Ball of Woe is a well-written and darkly funny mobile game in which you play God. Using Your Mighty Finger™ (i.e. your actual finger), you poke the screen to drop “Puffs,” thus blowing/steering the titular ball around a colorful, winding, ever-climbing track. Along the way, you’ll encounter multiple environments, obstacles and Zus, pitiful critters who you “liberate” by touching them with the ball. Points accrue as “Woe,” which you’ll then be able to use as in-game currency.
Was that too complicated? Here, the duo behind Doppler Interactive did a (fittingly) nice job setting the stage:
The Zus of Nicetown are sad. Life is hard. For an immortal – given a long enough time scale, even the constant cycle of inhalation/exhalation becomes a crippling chore. And so they pray to you. And you hear their prayers – for better or worse… and so here we are.
They have constructed a ball made up of their sorrows – and you; benevolent and handsome as you are – must roll it away from Nicetown, up – up – up – into your dimension. And along the way you will see the sights… you will speak with the Zus… [a]nd the whole sick affair will gradually come to light.
It’s Ball of Woe! The tap-style physics-driven thinly-veiled-visual-metaphor for touch devices (iPad, iPhone and Android) in beautiful, liver-crushing 3D. Pick the ball you wish to liberate, pick a power by which you will make your godly presence known, and get your sphere on!
One of those things you just have to play to really “get” (and at the low, low price of FREE, it’s more than worth a try). It also happens to be very good!
“I highly recommend downloading [Ball of Woe] and giving it a try. A lot of love went into making something…inspired.”
I find Ball of Woe extremely addictive. After a try or three, you’ll have a good feel for the physics and be on your way, rolling your ball ever onward toward “Heaven.” Or, you’ll screw up and fall off the track in relatively short order. Either way, this game will grab hold of you and keep you coming back again and again.
The controls and physics are solid. I never felt like they were the cause of the untimely demise of my woe ball. If I went off the path, it was the result of my own reckless speed/poor Puff placement. There are also limited Antipuffs (you can buy more in-app), which give you a chance to save yourself by reversing your current direction and – hopefully – staving off an embarrassing failure for a little while longer. Always there in the corner of the screen. Just a poke away. Temptingly finite.
The art is a fitting combination of fun and dark. From lush green grass to brightly-colored obstacles to to the lovably pathetic characters to the patchwork kaleidoscope that envelopes “tiles” you roll over along the way…everything is vibrant and carefully placed so as to keep the game from ever feeling repetitive. I love the little Zu characters, too. Some of them are totally into cosplay. And the environments you’re rolling through shift frequently.
There are multiple woe balls to unlock and select from, each of which has its own properties/difficulty level. Same can be said of the assorted Puffs available. Ranging from the cute to the freakish, you’ll find that each element is visually interesting and thoughtfully built. No palette-swapped, unlock-the-same-ball-but-in-red-or-black-or-turquoise crap, here. The design definitely grows on you as you play and experience different environments.
The moody, plodding music that “evolves” as you progress is the perfect accompaniment, providing a tonal boost that underscores the dry moodiness of everything going on. It starts on the menu screen, then builds as you start playing. I love that dynamic feel. I also love game music that isn’t annoying and doesn’t make me want to turn it off right away. (Bingo.)
As such, there isn’t a “variety” of music tracks, but one melody that winds and climbs like the ball itself, fitting the game quite nicely.
The dialogue/storyline are funny and poetic and slightly sinister. It’s compelling to the point that you’ll find that part of the challenge in Ball of Woe comes from balancing a desire to see what’s being “said” with actually moving along the path.
Even the Achievements are smirk-worthy. You get rewarded for deciding to “smite” all the Zu characters around the altar at the start of the game, for example. I really like the sense of humor.
That said, the game is not without its unpleasant bits. Ball of Woe is free, but its creators – understandably – would like to make some kind of profit for their hard work. Hence, in-game purchase opportunities abound. No, I take that back. In-game purchase opportunities pop up waaaaaaay too frequently.
I don’t mind it being suggested that I pick up a cool new Woe Ball or grab a different Puff or even plunk down chunk of real-life change for a pile of Antipuffs – in fact, I love being able to pay developers for their hard work, especially when the game itself is free and I’m enjoying it.
But after/before every game? Too much. Even every 3 or 5 games, I’d deal. Does this render Ball of Woe awful and unplayable? Of course not, but it’s a black mark on an otherwise lovely, charming experience.
Also, you’ll have to sit/tap through a long piece of dialogue at the start of every new game, so an easy-skip option for those of us who have already read and appreciated said delightful dialogue would be appreciated.
Let it be known that these issues amount to me wishing away a few obstacles that added a few mere seconds between me and playing again. You can just tap quickly tap through them, but…c’mon! I wanna’ PLAY!
Another nuisance is that, before each game, you don’t default back to the last ball and Puff selected. That would just make sense. Instead, you’ll have to cycle through the options to find the ones you want to use again. I’m aware that there are other options for the ball and Puff I can use. Believe me.
The game has already received an update, and more tweaks have been promised (in the near future) by Doppler Interactive. I’m anticipating the frequency of those “breadcrumb” ads will be addressed, as they learn more about how (and how often) people play Ball of Woe, but time will tell.
That said, even without any future updates, I highly recommend downloading this game as-is and giving it a try.
I posted a trailer for Ball of Woe to GGSGamer.com a while back, and was so intrigued I downloaded the game. I had no intention of reviewing the game, but I’ve been playing it since and have mentioned it frequently on Twitter and our incredible podcast You Like the Worst Stuff…so, I figured it was time make an official statement! A lot of love went into making something different, and a fine games writer I’d be if I didn’t do my part to turn people on to a game that really surprised me.
“[R]efreshingly different in a sea of tired letter-sorting games and endless runners.”
From the oddball plot that unfolds as you play (and tamper with mail – you’ll see) to the bright, appealing visuals to the shifting music to the extremely sticky gameplay, Ball of Woe is something refreshingly different in a sea of tired letter-sorting games and endless runners. Ironic that the only things holding it back from a 100% positive review are the same tired tropes that annoy players of less-inspired mobile games.
Overall, this one’s not to be missed.
Ball of Woe is available now for free on your iOS and Android device. Even if it weren’t free, I’d still recommend jumping in. For the record.
BALL OF JOY
- A funny, interesting, truly unique mobile gaming experience
- Colorful, attractive design
- Plenty to unlock & humorous achievements
- Controls and physics could easily have been borked, but they’re very solid
- Sneakily catchy music track that “evolves” as you progress through the game’s environments
- Frequent “reminders” that you can purchase new balls/Puffs/Antipuffs
- A few impediments to quick replay (intro dialogue, ball/Puff selection
- That Ball of Joy haunts me in my sleep…
iTunes rates it 9+ for infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence. Cheery, colorful visuals and plump, adorable characters…it’s pretty tame, except for the whole turning those adorable critters into bloody skeletons thing. Parental units, use your best judgment. It’s made for players who are able to appreciate the dialogue, anyway.
Full Disclosure: I contacted the developers for information about the in-game purchase options and any planned updates. Conversations with them had no bearing on this review, other than the fact that they taught me the term “breadcrumb” as it relates to game design and I was able to mention that further updates are planned!