In 2011 the App Store will no doubt see a slew of games from established developers that push the iDevice to its limits with really slick presentations. In such an environment we might lose sight of the fact that the key to success is – quite possibly more often than not – executing a fun concept in the simplest way possible. Giving the app away for free doesn’t hurt either — oh, and none of those pesky in-app purchases or pop-up ads, either! These are the core principles Nay Games seized upon when designing Bubble Ball (Out Now, Free), and after spending some quality time with the game it’s easy to understand why it sprouted wings once showered with just the right amount of App Store attention.
Bubble Ball lends itself to wonderfully simple summarization: it’s a “get this round thing from Point A to Point B” physics puzzler. It invokes my fond memories of Marblenauts in that regard, only the goal is accomplished in the exact opposite manner: rather than ask the player to shape a path for the ball through destructive processes, Bubble Ball hands out a toolkit filled with various polygonal objects and devices that vary from one level to the next.
The player proceeds to build a veritable Rube Goldberg machine through a no hassle drag-and-drop interface. Gravity is helpfully suspended during the construction phase, meaning the player can place objects in mid-air and the pieces will all snap into place – or crash into some horrifically miserable heap – once gravity is enacted by way of a “Start” virtual button. Metal objects are not subject to gravity and thus remain in place, and the most entertaining levels toss in mechanisms that reverse gravity or act as speed boosts once the ball rolls into them.
I was actually a bit disappointed when I found out the polygonal blocks can be rotated manually, but thanks to a satisfying progression in complexity the player already has enough to consider without having to worry about making objects rotate automatically as they fall. Yes, the in-game physics are really that good: objects respond to the level’s base environment, to the ball as it rolls over, and to one another during freefall. That means it’s difficult to predict how a well-laid plan might collapse in execution, but luckily the player can return items to their pre-freefall state to make small tweaks or entirely reset the level in progress.
Where Bubble Ball truly excels is the sense of creative freedom the player feels while fashioning paths that guide the titular ball to its goalpost. Sometimes videogames feel overly scripted — the player has to hit all the right notes exactly, making the experience a mechanical rote exercise. Several of Bubble Ball‘s 21 levels certainly lend themselves to particular solutions, but others can be handily completed without using all the tools set out, begging the question of how another player might have approached the level differently.
Much ado is being made about how Nay Games might have struck it absolutely rich if only this had been a paid app, and while the core game design is undeniably solid, its aesthetic shortcomings remind the player that Nay Games probably made a wise pricing decision. All of its in-game objects are textured agreeably enough and crisply defined, and yet Bubble Ball‘s overall sparse visuals and complete lack of music – it even cancels out external music tracks – leave it at a deficit compared to comparatively snazzy physics puzzlers studios with more resources have released.
Overall Bubble Ball proves itself an excellent first outing for Nay Games, and at the magic price of $0.00, it’s certainly a title every fan of logic puzzle and physics puzzle games should download and take for a spin. Weighing in at just a few hours’ worth of gameplay and lacking a zany mascot or catchy aesthetic that might draw newcomers into the genre, it might not have the greatest staying power on consumers’ iDevices over the long-term, however. If Nay Games manages to parlay the widespread attention it’s received into greater resources for future projects, it could become quite a force to be reckoned with on the indie dev scene!