As the title very directly indicates, this game has a lot to do with a ball. The titular object is a giant, metallic sphere buried in an ancient network of caverns into which your character just happens to tumble. Your task? Grab an ornate weapon – a mix between a magnet and a jackhammer – to push and pull the sphere past deadly dangers in an effort to not only escape, but also uncover the secrets of this hidden civilization. Though its combat elements feel sloppy and the story delivery is crude, the puzzle-solving gameplay is solid enough to keep you entertained throughout the adventure.
Since the game's played from the first-person perspective and you only get one gun, it's easy to compare it to something like Portal. Though The Ball can't really match up to the wit, narrative power, or inventive puzzles of Valve's brain-twister, it still possesses plenty of qualities that make it worth a look.
Take the versatility of the ball itself, for instance. Developer Teotl has done a great job of gradually ramping up the difficulty of its challenges, making the early puzzles standalone and easy to overcome and then combining those mechanics to greater effect later on in more complex, multi-part challenges. For instance rolling the ball into a pit of oil then leaves a trail on the ground. Should you introduce fire the trail will light up, useful for when you need to detonate something or light a fuse nearby. The ball can be upgraded with a variety of other powers, from a coating of spikes or land mines to conducting electrical charges. Later on it can even be infused with its own gravitational field, allowing your character to jump further when traversing environments to hit switches and proceed forward. The kind of variety the game offers in this regard helps keep the experience exciting while moving from one area to the next.
Control also plays a big part in keeping the gameplay from getting all caught up in retrieval annoyances. If you're far away from the ball, the attract functionality still works, allowing you to get the object back to your character without having to waste time trudging all over the larger maps. It's also nice to see how Teotl has not only given various exotic abilities to the ball, but also more logical ones. The ball can serve as a platform, for instance, letting you hop up to new heights, or serving as a platform to traverse deadly gaps. Such variety in its usefulness establishes a powerful dynamic between player and object. When the ball is taken away for a few brief moments – either put on another level of elevation or stored in a chamber – it's like somebody stole your pants. It helps draw you into the experience, making you care about and rely on an inorganic object in a Companion Cube-y kind of way.
What's unfortunate is the combat doesn't work as well as the puzzle mechanics. Fighting enemies requires swift movement and reflexes, and control of the ball in tight quarters while under pressure is muddy at best. Enemies aren't especially interesting to fight either, since most just charge at you and have a basic evasion maneuvers, or sit at a distance and toss fireballs. Thankfully the game doesn't mob you with opponents too frequently, and in a few cases tosses a boss fight at you. While surprising, few of these encounters are as well thought out or as fun as solving puzzles. I appreciate the humor value of fighting a giant subterranean zombie gorilla as much as the next guy, but the mechanics of actually taking him down pale in comparison.
What story there is fails to drum up much intrigue, though Teotl does use a Half-Life-esque G-Man technique of frequently teasing you with an imposing, presumably powerful figure. More than the bits of information you're given through cut-scenes or following the pickup of a hidden item, the desire to explore is delivered much more effectively through the visual presentation. For a small game, there are some great sights here. From the intricate detail on the ball itself to the sprawling caverns with looming ceilings dotted with terraced temples, there are plenty of awe-inspiring moments packed in as you discover a new landscape and begin to roll through, figuring out the trap and puzzles mechanics along the way.
When the story mode's over with, which could take around five or more hours, there are a few survival challenges to dive into. These are heavily combat-focused modes where you use traps and ball skills to flatten monster ladybugs and fireball-shooting zombies. I wouldn't recommend playing them for any extended amount of time since the issues in the story mode apply here as well, but if you think of it as bonus content it's not so bad.
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