Sphere rolling has been an enduring mainstay in gaming, popularized across titles like 1984’s Marble Madness, the Super Monkey Ball franchise and most recently, 2015’s Polyball. Originally released on Steam two years ago, Road to Ballhalla has now spun its way onto the Nintendo Switch, offering a portable version of the ball rolling action game. While the simple concept might not appeal to all players, those seeking a vigorous test of reflexes might appreciate the game’s clever stage design.
Each of the game’s twenty-four stages employs an intuitive control scheme where either the analog stick or the Switch’s D-pad buttons push the on-screen ball around. Head into the game’s initial levels, where hazards are relatively scarce, and you’ll soon learn that your orb doesn’t stop on a dime. Pushing the ball around with a bit of optional boost produces momentum, as if you were moving a weighty object across a slick surface. Unsurprisingly, a tension between pace and precision dominates much of Ballhalla’s trials, with hazards that induce precarious behavior.
You’ll want to be careful when you’re navigating around the game’s ubiquitous red tiles, which turn on and off with a deliberate cadence. Touch one of these zones while you’re boosting and your helpless globe will be shattered, forcing a restart at the last checkpoint. Even if you’re not racing across the crimson-colored areas, these regions are dangerous and will quickly siphon away some of your health upon contact.
Later, lasers are added to the equation, with Ballhalla showing a fondness for having multiple beams moving in flawless synchronization. Sometimes you’ll have to scoot to a small space where they avoid intersection. In other instances, you’ll have to take cover behind an environmental object, endowing the stage with a stealthy feel. Another notable hazard are giant, wireframe balls capable of crushing you. As with many of Ballhalla’s dangers, they are also useful, allowing you to sneak past a searing laser as they temporarily block the beam for you.
Adeptly, Road to Ballhalla doesn’t just toss threats at you indiscriminately. Instead, the multi-part stages gradually introduce each new danger, and you learn how to circumvent the risk, the game imparts its own brand of wisdom. Later, these lessons become indispensable with the game combining hazards, requiring swift thinking and even faster reflexes. Yet, in order to shake the feeling of being a traditional action-puzzler, Road to Ballhalla occasionally dispenses misinformation. On-screen text might tell you to do something lethal, which feels novel after years of good-natured guidance from games.
Another merit to the game’s level design revolves around the tiny yellow collectables placed across each stage. These display a magnetic attraction to your orb, so simply coming close to these items pull them in, often from hazardous areas. Since your end of level rating is based on the number of collectables grabbed and the number of lives lost, there’s a persistent temptation to stray just off the safe path. Checkpointing is frequent, so while completing even the more difficult levels is possible with practice, gathering all the items while not loosing too many lives is another matter.
Beyond the main campaign, replay is also incentivized by new sphere skins, color trails, and even a Rush mode. The later forgoes token collection by turning Ballhalla into a breakneck race toward the end of each level. Additional challenge can be found in the mischievously named Hole of Glory, Your Demise, and even a devious scavenger hunt. While a built-in level editor (and ability to share your stages) would have been beneficial, as it stands, Road to Ballhalla provides enough frantic fun to justify its fifteen-dollar purchase price.
Road to Ballhalla was played on Switch with review code provided by the publisher.