Going Uphill Fast
HIGH Unlocking the final secret and receiving an appropriate reward!
LOW Thinking I was terrible at a level, then realizing it was a bug.
WTF The Fury Rolled.
Devious and punishing, frustrating and exacting, Road to Ballhalla is an old-school puzzling challenge which asks players to master the momentum of a modern-day Marble Madness while sussing out some of the most devious level designs in recent memory. Also? Players must endure corny jokes and a near-fatal number of puns while doing so.
Road To Ballhalla is short and sweet — it’s a witty game that doesn’t overstay its welcome by padding things out with filler. Instead, the developer has taken the central idea of rolling a marble around series of obstacles and taken it to its logical extremes by building twenty stages, each with a unique feel, style, and twist on the mechanics.
Player interaction is restricted to tilting their sticks to send their marble rolling, and choosing when to boost. The boost has a particularly nifty drawback, which took me quite a few deaths to get used to — any number of items in the game’s world can damage the player’s marble. When boosting, however, any damage taken becomes instantly fatal. This perilous boost creates creates huge strategic opportunities — players will often find themselves racing across floors as quickly as possible, then dropping out of zoom and accepting half a second of damage before boosting the rest of the way.
There’s no doubt that the level of challenge in Ballhalla can be stiff at times, but I would have thought half the things the developers asked me to pull were physically impossible if it weren’t for… the game’s soundtrack.
That’s right, Ballhalla is something of a stealth rhythm title. While there are no obvious floating arrows to watch or strike zones to hit, every one of the hazards is timed exactly to the four-count beat of various techno tracks that score each level. Floors light up, plasma balls fire, and jump pads activate at the same point in every bar of music, forcing the player to listen closely if they want to get anywhere. What impressed me most about these rhythm elements? How gradually they’re layered into the gameplay.
The earliest levels are devoted to teaching the player how to work switches and dodge dangers. Then, deadly obstacles on timers start working their way into the proceedings. It was only when I reached a seemingly-impassable corridor of cannons that I finally made the connection between the music and the trap’s firing rate.
From then on, I was zipping the marble along to the beat, and was amazed at how well the developer had integrated rhythm into the gameplay, elevating what would otherwise have been a fairly clever action/puzzler into an impressively inventive experience.
While there are just twenty stages in Ballhalla (and most can be beaten in just a few minutes) the developer has included plenty of reasons to continue playing once everything has been unlocked. Ball decals and flaming trails are available if players are able to find every spark of energy in a given level, and time trials will push players to the absolute limit. Best of all, a scavenger hunt has been hidden across a few levels — players are asked to decipher clues and search out well-concealed secrets in order to navigate a minefield of teleporters and invisible pathways. It’s a blast, and wonderfully rewarding for those who make it all the way to the end.
Road To Ballhalla is a delight. It rises above its inspirations to bring a new musical sensibility to the action puzzle genre. While some levels can be frustrating or even punishing, it never feels unfair — clearly a huge amount of thought has gone into balancing the difficulty, and anyone who brings a steady hand and a good amount of patience will find one of the most wonderfully kinetic puzzlers around.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Torched Hill and published by Tinybuild. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 13 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it contains Mild Violence. That said, it’s completely safe for your kids, parents. There are no scares, no questionable content, just a marble that sometimes dramatically explodes. Let ’em at it If they have good hand-eye coordination.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This is going to be a big problem for you — while many levels can be completed with the sound off, many of them require precise timing, and the only clue given is the beat of the soundtrack. If you can’t hear it, this game may well be unplayable.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.