Unresponsive controls, boring gameplay, and lackluster graphics amount to a game that isn't even worth its budget price.
When I saw Niki - Rock 'n' Ball go up on the Wii Shop Channel, I felt compelled to give it a shot. At such a low price, I figured, how bad could it be? Famous last words…
According to the opening dialog, Niki's story is somehow connected to BPlus' last WiiWare foray, PLÄTTCHEN - Twist 'n' Paint. None of this really matters though, because Niki's story is completely irrelevant to the game.
Niki is a plastic ball who has the ability to roll and jump. Given his hard exterior shell, he bounces on things, and can therefore use his abilities to propel himself up walls. Players can also obtain the ZeLeLi amulet and use it to transform Niki into a rock. In this form Niki is able to defeat enemies not able to be destroyed in his standard form. Additionally, his bouncing ability is diminished, and he moves slower. Players will need to switch between his two forms in order to complete each level. Each level has two objectives: collect all of the ZeLeLi pearls, and defeat all of the enemies. Neither objective is particularly fun to accomplish, thanks to the awful controls and the completely unenjoyable gameplay.
The control problems start with the default control scheme. Players hold the remote upwards and tilt left to right, moving Niki around room-confined levels reminiscent of Bubble Bobble. After playing the game for just a few minutes, it becomes obvious that holding the remote like an NES controller would've been a much simpler, precise, and fun way to control the game. Players will want to immediately switch to the Retro controls; unfortunately, things don't get much better. Movement becomes more precise, since you can lightly press the D-Pad instead of making swooping gestures with the Wii Remote. However, Niki will still make huge advances forward for no apparent reason at random times, which is frustrating and can often result in death.
The jumping controls are no better. The game counter-intuitively registers a jump on the release of the jump button, and even worse, it does so poorly. When attempting to bounce off a wall, oftentimes Niki will not perform the command, regardless of proper timing. Niki is also unresponsive when you try to jump quickly after landing.
The game's control oddities would've been tolerable if the gameplay or level design were interesting enough, yet both are bland and frustrating. As mentioned earlier, defeating all of the enemies is necessary to complete a given level. Defeating enemies is as simple as rolling into them in Niki's rock form, with no extra work necessary. More often than not, players can hold the rock transformation button on the Wii Remote and roll left to right to kill all of the enemies in the level. The combat system's lack of depth or challenge makes this objective feel like a chore. Also, given that players must obtain the ZeLeLi amulet to transform Niki into his rock form, the designers could've placed it in a treacherous spot, or created a puzzle to spice up the level. Nothing of the sort is included.
The substandard quality of the game is also evident in both its visual and audio presentation. The in-game music is bland, and the sound effects are repetitive and grating. The enemy designs are unvaried and simple, looking as if they were constructed in Microsoft Paint. The backgrounds are just a mish-mash of color, further adding to its MS Paint look.
The game's only redeeming factor is the co-op mode. At any point, if a second player wants to join in, all they need to do is turn on their Wii Remote and a second Niki avatar is spawned on the screen. When players team up, they can more quickly complete levels and assist each other in getting to harder-to-reach spots in the levels. The only drawback of the mode is that players must tolerate a further zoomed-out view of the stage as they move further away from each another.
Don't be tempted by Niki - Rock 'n' Ball's budget price. The game is partially broken, uninspired, and most important of all, boring.