Review: Road to Ballhalla
Indie games can be broadly divided into a handful of categories: Walking simulators, roguelikes, retro pixelated puzzle platformers (try saying that five times fast) and twitch-reflex games that are ridiculously difficult. The latter category is also known as ‘masocore’ and it’s a category I’m actually very fond of. Maybe it’s the challenge, or maybe it’s the bragging rights I’ll get when I finally best the game, but I like games that ratchet up the difficulty to ‘are you even serious?’. Thus, I was pretty excited to try out Road to Ballhalla. However, the game blew me away by delivering a clever, constantly changing experience that made you rely on your wits as much as your reflexes.
Road to Ballhalla starts off in a simple enough manner: In a top-down level, you have to guide a ball through an obstacle course. The ‘narrator’ gives instructions with white text in various parts of the level. At first, it’s pretty simple, and you’re mainly dodging flashing red tiles which can hurt you and trying to get to the end of the level. Later, however, the game just keeps throwing different obstacles at you.
One thing I loved about the game is its use of rhythm. Many of the obstacles move in tune with the music, so you’ll need to rely on the beat to figure out how to move. While this isn’t utilized as much as it could be, it’s there in quite a few levels and it gives you a fun way to get around the obstacles. While a lot of games are content to give you one mechanic and spread it over a few levels, Road to Ballhalla changes it up from level to level. It’s not just about your reflexes in most cases; it’s also about knowing the best way to navigate the obstacles. I won’t spoil the challenges for you to keep it fresh, but I will tell you that you literally and figuratively won’t know what’s around the next corner.
What I really liked about Ballhalla is the way it creates a challenge. There are orange orbs to collect throughout the level, and there are various respawn points generously strewn about. By using your respawn as little as possible and collecting all the orbs, you get more points per level. The points then unlock later levels. Thus, it becomes a matter of risk vs. reward; you can play in a sloppier way, but you’ll need more levels to get unlocks. Or perhaps you can finish the level once, and then dive in to get a better score. Either way, the game manages to lay out its difficulty in a pretty reasonable way, and while it definitely had ‘I will seriously break the controller and the game and the legs of the developers’ moments, it managed a fairly balanced challenge throughout. There are, of course, challenge modes for the more discerning masocore gamer, so don’t worry about being challenged.
You also get guidance from the narrator at various points, and this can be pretty lifesaving at times. Often, the narrator will hint at the solution for an obstacle after you die, so you get a sort of lifeline. However, in keeping with another time-honored indie game trope of ironic narration, the narrator will occasionally mislead you and mock you for falling for it, or else make various silly jokes. What I liked was that this part was definitely not overdone (the narrator even pokes fun at the tackiness of the humor at various points, making it pretty self-aware).
Clocking in at around 3 hours, the game offered a good amount of content, but it felt like it was on the short side. The good news is that there’s support for Steam Workshop levels, so there’s bound to be plenty of user-generated content to keep you occupied.
Road to Ballhalla was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by Studio Saizensen. Game was tested on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Balanced difficulty and challenge
• Variety of obstacles that constantly change around
• Dynamic turn-based combat system
• Catchy soundtrack and rhythm gameplay
• Humor can be irritating at times
• Some parts feel a little unfair
• Fairly short