Rollin', rollin', rollin'...
I find myself occasionally chasing media that calls back to fond memories of my youth. It’s easy to look towards what brought myself joy as a child and attempting mostly in vain to emulate the same feelings as a kid. One of those experiences was with a game I played on my parents’ Commodore Amiga called Marble Madness, where you control a rolling ball along a trap and hazard-laden maze and race to reach the end before time expires.
It’s with that background that I started Road to Ballhalla, a puzzle-platformer by developer Tiny Build that shares similar DNA as Marble Madness but alters the challenge structure for the better. Rather than a race against a clock counting-down, your challenge is to get across obstacles in the course while collecting as many floating orbs as possible and with as few deaths as you can avoid. Death comes from either falling off the side of a platform or running into various hazards. Levels scale in difficulty quickly, but also include several checkpoints that allow you to respawn from when death occurs, and are frequent enough to avoid frustration in losing significant progress. I found myself using suspend mid-levels after struggling in a spot to step away and come back if stuck mid-level, which also helped in progression without losing progress.
Success in each level comes from following along the path and solving puzzles without hitting those hazards, and the music’s tempo provides a hint of how the hazards will appear. Narration and guidance are given via text that pops on screen as you progress, with cheeky comments and sometimes purposefully bad information that’s meant to deceive or at least provide humor that largely works. It also toys with perspective and reuses hazards in clever ways that provide fresh challenge in a level that I won’t divulge further on, as the surprise of how they do so is half the fun.
Road to Ballhalla has a very basic, grid-lined style to everything that is visually striking. The black and white pops, levels and the ball are laced with vibrant neon colors, and it’s all beautifully bright while not obfuscating visibility of hazards you’re attempting to avoid. Unlockable colors and trails to change the appearance of the ball, while not necessary, is a nice addition that helps distinguish it further from the levels as well as can be helpful in certain obstacles.
Even if you don’t have a fondness for Amiga like I do, it is a wonderful contemporary take on a classic puzzle platformer with a visual flair, well-thought-out puzzles, and a cheeky personality. Attention to detail was paid in making Road to Ballhalla, and elevates it from good to great.