Giant stone balls are the natural enemy of the heroarchaeologist. They flatten our fedoras, chase us down long corridors and guard the tombs we're trying to loot. The Ball busts that paradigm, handing you a bonecrushing pet boulder as your sole tool for solving first-person puzzles. It's like a wacky, mismatched copbuddy movie. Lethal Weapon, with Mel Gibson as The Ball.
You've fallen into a Mexican pit, full of enough miles of beautiful forgotten ruins to fill a decade's worth of National Geographics. You find an enchanted, gun-shaped artefact that acts as a controller for a large, ancient steel ball. It has two functions: magnetically drawing the ball toward you, and punching it away from you with a superpowerful piston. This is the basis for six hours' worth of underground puzzle-machinery-driven challenges that task you to move gears, traverse lava, loosen stone blocks and push buttons to raise water levels to advance to the next room. If Portal was about mid-air agility and outside-the-box, cerebral problemsolving, The Ball is about slow momentum and pushing your way into the next room with God's bowling ball. Think of it as a magical Mayan bowling alley.
It has more combat than Portal, even if that combat is simple and over quickly: between puzzle rooms you're chased by entombed horrors, such as mummies and a zombified King Kong. These aren't clever enemies: they run directly at you, and swat you with their decrepit claws until you either die or crush them with your weighted companion sphere. Being mostly defenceless kept me off-balance in places – I caught myself in a panicky fit of bunnyhopping at one point, yelling “Ohgodohgod!” when I was separated from my ball and hounded by angry mummies. But the fighting doesn't demand any creative thinking: even the handful of bosses use the tired, matador-style 'lure, dodge, attack' mechanic we've seen in hundreds of games.
Difficulty is at its greatest in the four-level survival mode, which dumps waves of enemies into a circuit of hazards and makes you leap through hordes of giant bugs and mummies to reach controls that activate deadly traps.
It's The Ball's puzzles that make it unique and worthwhile. None of them are particularly brain-breaking (and there's a hint button within reach at all times). Most amount to guiding your globe over obstacles to reach buttons, but they're gently paced in a way that produces something calming and enjoyable (in between mummy attacks). You lead the lumpen sphere around like it's a giant puppy, coercing it to do your bidding. The easy, intuitive fun of kicking your dynamically-lit, polished, multi-ton marble through the environment and watching the ballet of Newtonian physics play out is an adventure in itself.
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