The road to Ballhalla: Going BALListic on the way to puzzle enlightenment

Going BALListic on the way to puzzle enlightenment.

July 2017- By DadGeek and Kat.

As a dad, I like puns. Puns (and dad jokes)make me happy, usually it makes the kids cringe, which makes me happier. I also love puzzle games , especially those that have simple mechanics, a variety of challenges and a great soundtrack. Games such as Tetris, Lumines, Devil dice, or Klax etc. But also puzzle platform games such as the portal games.  And now I get to have my puns and my puzzle games too??  This is almost too much one dad can handle. Is this game worthy to be lumped in together with some of the great puzzle games in history? Or is this ball a little deflated? Lets find out and go ballistic ( HA) and checkout "The Road to Ballhala"

Lets have some F.U.N.!!

What is it?
The road to ballhalla (HA PUNS!) is a music driven puzzle/platform game where you control a ball along different levels in an effort to unlock the path to the coveted  "Balhalla", a paradise for all spherical beings.
Along the way you will encounter helpful, unhelpful and mostly snarky remarks across the different areas driving you to do better and at times questioning your motives and perhaps your intelligence. With a bunch of Easter-eggs spread around the game that poke fun at some typical game tropes and the players curiosity. Without giving away too much of the fun , lets just say that the game stays engaged in your efforts most of the way. As you progress you can upgrade your ball avatar with colors and trailing lights as well as unlock secrets and bonus levels. And lets not forget it has puns, puns puns!!



Gameplay
As you start balhalla , you begin in a hub world , controlling a small sphere. The controls are simple your your controller to navigate the ball and use the shoulder buttons to "sprint". After a short introductory level where the game purposely steers you wrong a few times you quickly get a feel for the gameplay.  The game presents itself well as a puzzle games, with skill puzzle elements as well as logic puzzles. Where in the beginning the stages are a single screen, you will quickly approach larger levels that are split over multiple sections. As you move along the different levels you will be given hints , often with a large side of snark and you learn from your mistakes as you move further. Along the way you pic up yellow glowing items that help you increase your end score. When you finish a level it will show you how much of them you grabbed and missed, allowing for a return to a level at a later point to improve on that score.

You cannot trust anyone these days.

The user interface shows you minimal information that varies at times depending on the puzzle. There is a life indicator, You see how far you completed the level and you see how many attempts you have had for that level. The lower you keep that number the more bonus you can score at the end of the level.

The variety of environmental changes if pretty high, there are perspective changes, jump sections, and a bunch of hazards such as deadly lasers or squares that flash red and when you are on one of those you lose life pretty fast. But what ties the whole game together is the harmonious inclusion of the music. Each laser, red flashing square, etc pulses with the tempo of the music, always in sync, allowing you to use the rhythmic tones as a guide to time your movement through each puzzle maze.

The controlling of the game is responsive but at times a bit frustrating, there are some physics applied and it is possible to go a bit off track if you are not careful and when it is not fun when it leads to your demise right before the end of your challenges, luckily there are plenty of save points along the way to help. Do not get me wrong, the controls are not glitchy, it is clearly as intended to give the ball some weight and add to the challenge of the game. In case of the switch version especially, it would be nice if they would allow different control options such as motion controls , but there is currently only the one default setting without customization.

Presentation
The road to ballhala has simplistic but stylish graphics, A level presented as a track consisting out of squares and a border with a blank background and a limited color pallets it might look empty, but it is very effective in giving you all the information you need to tackle each challenge. If you are not sure what a new item on a level does , just go explore it . If it "kills" you  you can quickly start back at the nearest safepoint and try again, while lesson learned. I can see the game possibly be problematic for someone who is color blind,or if  you have sensitivity to screen flickers. Please asses this yourself before you play the game, perhaps by checking out some videos of the game.

Character customization
The integration of the music is really well done, which is important because it is so integral to the game play. Each pickup you do has  tingly notes that fit right into the synthesizer melodies. Each laser pulse, trap or bounce in the game is tightly in sync allowing you to time your movement if the visuals alone become to hard to track. In a lot of ways ballhalla reminds me of games such as Lupines or Rez where the music helps you get into a zone that greatly improves your skill while playing. There for I recommend to play with a headset if you can or turn up that volume and bass loud. The soundtrack does change throughout the game , but is thematically very similar which at times makes it feel repetitive. It would be nice to see bigger changes in the song themes for each major level in order to give them all a distinct feel. But this is just a minor remark, not even a something I would consider a complaint.

The puns and snark in the game seem endless at times. it encourages you to try harder, change tactics, or makes you just laugh at its absurdity. I wont give too much away as it is more fun to experience it for yourself  but you find little jokes everywhere. Such as in the options menu where you can set easy mode to "disabled" or not "enabled" and a cheat code activation button tells you , there are no cheat codes.
*Kat : There is one hole you can enter that is clearly labeled “a hole that goes to nowhere”. When you enter it the game asks you why you would enter a hole that says it goes nowhere, but if you continue going into it over and over, you will get even more and different responses from the game.


With 4 major worlds, each containing multiple levels and bonus stages,  the opportunity to go back and improve your scores, hidden levels and secrets,  and even a special mode for speedruns this little game comes packed with replay value.

Kat's impressions:

I love it! The game has a very simple design so you are able to easily concentrate on what you’re doing. It slowly brings up new obstacles in each level, such as the blue squares of death and even moving lasers. Not to mention the really kicker, the games dialogue! It is so funny to see it’s sarcastic comments about your game play or whenever it tricks you You can’t help but feel as if it really is talking to you! And you can talk back to it! To an extent of course. When options for buttons come up such as A for select and B for cancel, there will be little phrases such as “i want to go back to the hub” or “I will stay and persevere!


Kat's Recommendation

The game is super cute and addictive! It’s also very simple yet difficult, something many games can’t accomplish! There are many working parts to the game involving the save points and dangers that create an addicting game. It can get very infuriating at times and you may have to put the game down and take a break a few times (believe me I know!) So take it from someone who died 26 times in the BEGINNING of a level, patience is required! So little kids and those who do not do well in slow and steady situations would possible not enjoy this game, but if you like strategy and thinking like me then this game is for you!

Parent Recommendation
The Road to Ballhall has puns and yes this include puns about balls, but I would consider the game overall safe enough as a family friendly game. It is fun to watch as it is to play and offers plenty opportunity to challenge each other to see who can do better on any given level. The controls can be a bit difficult , especially with the switch control stick, the pro controller makes it a bit easier though.
As with each puzzle game out there the game will ramp up in difficulty.A younger child may need some help solving them or navigating the hazards in the game, but with some persistence they are possible.



Overall Recommendation
For me this game is a surprise hit for the dog days of summer. There is just something to putting headphones on , getting lost in the game. Reaching a balance between harmonious melodies and frustrations of the more difficult challenge. Once you make it trough a challenging area and frustrations are soon washed away as you quickly face the next one. If are into  puzzle/rhythm games you should definitely check out "The road to Ballhalla".




Game Information:
Title: Road to ballhalla
Developer: Torched Hill 
Publisher: TinyBuild
Release date: August 2 , 2018
Platforms:  STEAM, PS4, XBOXone, Switch 
Version reviewed: Switch

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