There can't be many things more simple than using a paddle to hit a ball into bricks, in video game form. Chances are, if you were born before the 90s or have played some games on a mobile phone, that you'll have played Breakout or one of its many clones. For some reason the act of breaking bricks by hitting them with a moving ball, rebounding off a movable paddle at the bottom of the screen is addictive in a way that doesn't seem possible. So it's no surprise to see yet another game use this tried and tested gameplay mechanic, this time in Magic Ball, a PSN release for PS3.
Magic Ball tries to differentiate itself from the pack by using next-gen horse power - physics play a big part here. You are still using a movable paddle to deflect an incoming ball, but your targets aren't dull blocks. In Magic Ball you're tasked with taking down full 3D scenes, with islands, pirate ships, sharks, knights card towers and more. The game splits its levels between a pirate theme and a knights theme, so you're going to be seeing a lot of both.
The use of physics and proper 3D objects adds more to the experience than you might think. Not only is it visually far more impressive than a disappearing block, but your ball will rebound off objects in a less predictable manner than if you only had to contend to regular shaped bricks. At its core you're still just watching a ball onto your paddle, but somehow it feels more involving and exciting.
Things are spiced up even more by power-ups and power-downs. As you destroy objects in each scene pick-ups are released that can have very positive or negative effects on your play. The power-ups include a storm that blows tall structures down, various ball type and size modifiers, guns and a rope that stops balls from passing behind the paddle and resulting in a lost life. The ball type modifiers often come in most handy, with certain types able to rip straight through all objects that stand in their way.
You've got to be careful not to fall into the trap of collecting all the pick-ups you see though; pick up a power-down and things suddenly become a whole lot harder and in some cases it's game over. The deadly skull removes a life, so avoid at all costs, while there are various others that reduce the ball size, reduce the width of your paddle and one particularly nasty power-down causes the ball to move erratically. It's all too easy to take things too casually and find yourself facing the game over screen after not paying attention.
The single-player game is entertaining and has that much needed high-score hook, but the levels do become quite repetitive after a while. With only two distinct themes it's likely that you won't want to play a game featuring pirates or knights for some time. Two-player competitive and co-op modes are also available, either on a single console or online, with two paddles sharing the screen - covering one half each. Although decent fun it's not something that's going to extend your time with the game too much.
At just shy of £8 the amount of fun you'll get out of Magic Ball seems decent value for money. What lets it down is the lack of variety in the levels. With only two themes you'll soon grow tired of blasting knights and pirates, and the two-player modes will only be of interest to a small number of people. Most definitely worth a look, but not quite up there with the best available on the PSN.