Remember playing marbles as a kid? You know, that game where you have a circle, and you try to shoot your opponent’s marbles out of it to collect them for yourself? Ahh, those were the good old days, before all these crazy newfangled holograms and electromagnets and floating platforms. Yes, back in my day, we had to roll uphill to the goal both ways. Over ice!
Switchball definitely isn’t your grandpa’s game of marbles. Speaking of which, make sure you don’t lose yours as well while you play. Though the game starts off deceptively simple, within a few worlds you may be worrying less about your marbles than the enamel on your teeth as you gnash them in frustration. Not to say that’s a bad thing though, after all, what’s a puzzle game without a little challenge?
Those who’ve played games like Marble Blast, or even Marble Madness for those of you who had a Gameboy Color, the basic mechanics should be familiar. Like most marble based games, a goal is located somewhere in the level and you must roll to it. The similarities, however, end there. Switchball is more of a timed puzzle game than a speed course game, and this is apparent in the speeds the marbles move at. Some may travel faster than others, but none achieve a particularly impressive top speed. Instead, much of the time your marble will be pushing boxes and toggling switches rather than blazing down straightaways. Many of the puzzles themselves seem rather trite, serving as little more than annoyances on your path to victory, rather than thought provoking conundrums. Almost every time, there is only one set solution to each puzzle, leaving Switchball feeling rather linear and confining. Most players might even progress as far as the last world before they feel truly challenged to think, with challenges becoming much more complex and larger in scope. During the last world, however, players might feel almost overwhelmed, with vast arrays of interconnected gates, switches, airlifts, electromagnets, and marble switchers. At least the scenery while you’re pushing boxes around is pretty.
Very pretty, in fact. The graphics are certainly one of the finer points in Switchball, with textures looking quite nice up close or far away. None of the textures are particularly realistic, as that’s not really the mood of the game, but all of the textures are detailed and stand up to scrutiny. Most impressive is the lighting, which is put to the test in accurate and detailed reflections off of your spherical marble, as well as shadows in the environment. The powerball in particular takes advantage of this, becoming sort of like a disco ball and emitting light from within whenever powered up, and looking especially interesting while playing through Caveworld.
Some of Switchball’s mechanics may frustrate the casual gamer, however, and even veterans to this sort of game may find the checkpoint system annoying. Checkpoints are fairly standard, but it feels a bit unfair to have all of your work pushing boxes around reset every time you fall off, though the timer is still running. Due to this, most levels are near impossible to complete under par time if a mistake is made. Even earning a bronze medal for timely completion can be difficult, and getting a gold… well, it’s safe to say that might take a quite a long while, and a good deal of practice.
For a game touting an advanced physics engine, however, Switchball feels rather… off, at times. Namely, the ground seems to be covered in something sticky. Even on a long level surface, marbles can never achieve a very high velocity, and quickly decelerate on all but the steepest of slopes. Halfpipes encountered in the game behave strangely as well. Instead of rolling to about the same point your marble started at on the other side, your marble will most likely come to a stop near the bottom with no additional power. However, these flaws don’t detract from gameplay all that much, and to make up for it collisions are quite nicely done, as are magnetic effects. The ability to jam various obstacles with other objects is a nice touch as well.
After rolling through all five worlds, what else is there? Multiplayer, of course. Thankfully, Atomic Elbow addresses a serious issue with many other multiplayer games of this sort, that of opponents simply passing straight through each other instead of colliding, giving the online experience a much more involved feel. Multiplayer may not hold you for long though, with only eight levels, four for the race mode and four for the cooperative puzzle mode. Unfortunately, you won’t find any huge challenges in cooperative mode, though fans of speed will enjoy race mode, where all of the puzzles have been removed and the course is a straightforward, but quite twisty, dash for the finish.
Switchball is an innovative new take on the traditional marble game, with a plethora of interesting additions to spice up the old formula, and stunning graphics to please the eyes. Providing an easy learning curve, the game is easy to pick up and roll with for novices and veterans of the genre alike. Switchball will keep you pushing for the next level, and on the edge of your seat as your marble rides the thin line between success and the abyss.
Eight out of ten
- Easy to pick up, but also a challenge.
- Questionable physics.
- Aggravating checkpoint system.