Combat is another area where the game staggers, forcing you to deal with hordes of angry mummies, insects and other strange creatures. Some foes launch projectiles at you while others simply try to rush you, but either way you'll usually end up strafing about in circles, hurling the ball out and hurriedly retrieving it in yo-yo fashion. It's certainly quite unusual, and there's something quite gratifying about the old-school way your opponents gib apart as you hit them, but on the whole combat just serves as a slightly annoying diversion from the meat of the game.
Thankfully, the meat in question is quite a decent cut. There's no denying that the 5-6 hour campaign takes a while to get going, but once its found momentum the puzzles are generally quite fun. There's nothing as ingenious or as mind-bending as the later stages of Portal, but there's a decent spread of variety to the challenges. Some situations test your platforming skills, while others probe your logic or force you to search for hidden switches or destructible scenery. If you get stuck you can summon a (usually) helpful solution by tapping the H key, but in all likelihood you'll strive to avoid this crutch. It's far better to persevere, as there's great satisfaction to be had from solving the harder scenarios. In victory, the millstone ceases to be a millstone around your neck, and instead becomes a trophy of sorts - a spherical prize to be rolled gleefully through a recently-opened gate.
As you'd expect from a smaller title such as this, The Ball's graphics are a bit dated, lacking much of the visual pizzazz you'd expect in a contemporary first-person title. That said, the game is not without its occasional subtle detail: as you move around the long-forgotten tombs you'll leave dusty footprints in your wake, and if you pass through a spider web your screen will be temporarily obscured by a flurry of insect silhouettes. Teotl has also put a fair bit of effort into the atmosphere of its subterranean world. Hidden collectible tablets tell the story of the doomed civilization that now lies as rubble beneath your feet, and every so often you'll come across a sight that brings the original Tomb Raider to mind - an immense temple looming out of the darkness, or a hulking mess of arcane machinery. Although brief, these fleeting sparks of excitement are enough to give the game a bit of much needed-spice.
In addition to the main campaign there's also a survival mode, pitting you against waves of enemies in a selection of trap-filled arenas. It's fun enough for a few minute's distraction, but it's unlikely to hold your attention for very long. Still, the main game is decent while it lasts - and although that only amounts to a couple of afternoon's worth of play (or one, if you're a jobless student), that's not a bad deal for the budget price of £15. The Ball won't lure many people away from the triple-A hits of the year, but if you're in the market for a spot of first-person puzzling, it's well worth the entry fee.
VideoGamer.com Score7 Score out of 10
- Varied, well-designed puzzles
- Original concept
- The Ball itself feels too light
- It's a solid rather than exceptional