A lot of promises were made when it was announced that the development tool Unity was coming to PlayStation Mobile. We were promised that developers were going to be given access to more of the power under the hood of the PS Vita without the need of being constrained by the shackles of having to adhere to being compatible with the full range of existing PlayStation Certified devices. Unity would allow programmers to develop games faster, port existing titles to the Vita more efficiently and theoretically write games that could push PSM in ways that it has never done before. The promise was of bigger and better games.
The beta of Unity for PSM was around for several months and the first games hit the PSN Store at the start of July 2014 with this being released in the first batch and to a degree means that in a way it’s going to be subject to greater scrutiny than most. As with all of the first batch of Unity releases, BallFlip is quite a simplistic affair in terms of the game itself – it’s a 3D endless runner but rather than controlling a person you take charge of a sphere hurtling down a 3D monochrome passage way. Rushing towards you are blocks that you can either dodge or jump over and as with all games in the genre, all you have to do is survive as long as you can without colliding into anything.
Okay, that’s over-simplifying things a bit. Unlike many endless runners, BallFlip has powerups that appear randomly as you progress through the game. These come in two flavours and appear above the blocks coming towards you. They can be collected by jumping in the air to get them. The first gives you a temporary boost to your ball’s strength allowing you to smash through the oncoming blocks without fear of destruction although it is limited so you still need to be somewhat cautious about being over-reliant on it. The second is a single use blast which will destroy a string of blocks ahead of you at the press of a button. It’s only good for one shot, but it can be a real life-saver. As with most games that utilise some form of powerup system, you have to think carefully about what one will suit you best when you pick them up (if you have a choice) as you can only use one at a time and if one is already equipped it can’t be replaced with another until it has been used.
All good so far and while the genre itself has been a bit saturated of late on every format imaginable, I’m all for developers trying to bring something new to it and adding their own spin to try to freshen things up so I’m certainly not going to dismiss a game on those grounds, especially if it’s fun and playable and warrants the asking price. Controls are simple enough – the ball is steered left and right using the d-pad, X is used to jump and the square button is used to shoot so it’s easy to pick up and start playing. There are three difficulty settings making it accessible for gamers of all ages and abilities and that’s the only other thing you need to think about when it comes to making your way around the game.
Onto the look and feel of the game and the screenshots don’t really give you an impression of what the game looks like when it moves. Apart from the ground, the surrounding sky is made up of countless rotating 3D objects that are moving towards you continually as you play all of which adds up to providing a convincing sensation of depth and movement. Sound wise, while there are no sound effects, there’s a good solid thumping dance track that plays throughout the game which suits the game quite well.
Unfortunately BallFlip isn’t perfect. Even within the confines of its genre, I found one issue with the gameplay that I did find somewhat limiting and other technical faults that let it down.First, on the gameplay front, while the game appears to give you a great deal of freedom in terms of movement and certainly the visuals seem to give that impression, your movement is actually quite significantly restricted. Infact movement is limited to three virtual lanes of traffic and your ball can only move between these three and you certainly don’t have the same range of movement that you may be used to from other 3D endless runners. This may only seem like nit-picking but it does reduce the complexity and depth of the game and there were times when I was able to play for quite some length of time by doing little more than pressing the X button where I would have prefered something a bit more challenging and where I would have needed more precise control over the ball’s movement.
My main concern is with the visuals. On the easy difficulty setting everything is generally fine – the game runs smoothly enough and overall gives quite a promising impression of the benefits that Unity is going to bring to PlayStation Mobile and apart from the very minor and occasional tearing of the ball when moving sideways on the track, there’s no noticeable impact on the visuals and these slight glitches don’t marr the gameplay whatsoever. It’s only when you move into the normal and hard difficulty settings that the game engine starts to falter. While still not a major issue and certainly not something that spoils the game to the point that it’s unplayable, the graphics tend to judder at an increasing rate the faster the game runs.
And this really is the crux for me… what is a fun game is really let down by a limited range of movement and a slightly bugged 3D engine. The bugs don’t stop the game from running and to-date I haven’t had any major problems with them interfering with the game itself but they are very evident but hopefully it’s something that can be addressed in a future update. I’ll admit that it’s not the greatest endless runner available for the PS Vita – or PlayStation Mobile for that matter – but it’s a fun diversion for a while.
At A Glance
- Title: BallFlip
- Publisher: David Omari
- System: PlayStation Mobile
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 38Mb