Road to Ballhalla is the first title from Torched Hill, a one man indie studio, published by Tiny Build. I must admit that from looking at Tiny Build’s track record for games they’ve published, I was excited to get my hands on this title. Now having completed the game (not 100%, I’m not insane which I’ll go into later!), I can safely say my excitement was well deserved.
On the outside looking in Road to Ballhalla can be seen as one of those 3d guide a ball through the level games, somewhat akin to Super Monkey Ball or Marble Madness. Inside however, is a charming, stylised and evil bastard of a game. The “narrator” for lack of a better term that gives tutorial advice at the start is delightfully snarky and is likely to hinder you as much as it helps.
Surprisingly enough there actually is something of a story inside the game, which might be unexpected considering it’s a game about a ball. You are completing a bunch of levels to reach ballhalla, the after-life for balls. There is something charming about the story, the game doesn’t take itself seriously and it’s enjoyable because of it.
The game is admittedly on the smaller side, with only 20 different levels broken into 5 per “zone”. Game length is increased by having to complete each level collecting all the glowing orbs and having few deaths. If you have that itch to be a 100% completionist, there is a lot that Road to Ballhalla offers if you’re willing to dedicate the time to it.
Now, onto what I was saying about being insane. Road to Ballhalla gets difficult. I’m talking downright evil levels of difficulty, but never seems unfair. The controls remain tight and responsive, so if you do die, it’s likely to be your own fault. Easier paths are scattered throughout the levels to allow you the wimpy way out, even calling you a coward while you take them. I got 100/160 to achieve the ending and some of those last few points had me pulling out beard hairs.
There is honestly a good introduction of new mechanics and challenges at a steady pace, nothing seems too rushed. You go from avoiding red plates on the floor, moving lasers, and shoot cannons to being chased by massive red balls Indiana Jones style. I feel the need to highlight the level design, careful thought and consideration have clearly gone into each level.
There seems to be a growing trend of all Tiny Build games having some form of Twitch integration, so you can directly stream the game on Twitch to show everyone possible how bad you are at the game. There was even a “Twitch plays Road to Ballhalla”, which as you can expect was absolute mayhem. The game does naturally lend itself to a stream setting, while I was playing it I had a friend perched over my shoulder watching my growing frustration with amusement.
The later levels of rely heavier on understanding the controls rather than straight puzzle solving, once you get a good grip on when and when not to boost certain challenges become so much easier. If tough and challenging games aren’t for you, then you might find yourself hitting the table in frustration.
There is also a nice level of customization for your ball, you gradually unlock colours, trails, trail colours and extras as you progress though the game. It is all purely cosmetic but it honestly is a really nice touch. They’re the carrot on the end of a stick to urge you closer to that 100% completion mark.
The game is visually pleasing, most levels feature a clear contrast with slightly more dynamic backgrounds/particle effects. Levels are mostly kept clear of any visual clutter, making it easy to always identify yourself and control. The menus and UI are all simple to manoeuvre through, consistent with the style of the rest of the game. Sound wise, it was incredibly calming when you get a good rhythm of sliding through and collecting chimes. The rest of the games soundtrack is solid, soothing to compensate for the tougher moments.
Once you complete all the levels in a zone you are able to repeat the levels as a time trail, which features an online scoreboard to compete against the world. For each time trial you complete, you get a star to reach 84 in total. Road to Ballhalla is honestly stuffed with content and secrets, most of which is released once you reach the end of the game.
The one concern I would raise is game length. If you aren’t that much of a completionist, you can “complete” the game in an afternoon however the game compensates with so much extra content of repeating levels again and other secrets. I should note that there is Steam Workshop support and a map builder, so creating your own levels or playing user created ones could increase total playtime. In summary, I enjoyed Road to Ballhalla a great deal. The game concept is simple but with strong execution, the controls and comedic moments secure that for me.
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