When Mandeep Jutla recently released his first ever iOS game — entitled Simple Ball (out now, $0.99) — he picked a name that only seemed apt at first glance, the reality of the matter is that there’s not much simple about this game at all. Your objective — across the game’s 75 different stages — is to place an array of various color coded blocks, as well as assorted power-ups, to ensure that the ball successfully reaches the level’s objective. While the game’s graphics could not possibly have been made any more simplistic, most of the challenges that you will be facing are effectively more maddening that an impromptu meeting with the great Cthulhu himself.
Your 100% level specific toolkit will usually include an array of various shaped blocks, with the grey ones being subject to the current laws of gravity — the blue ones being entirely immune to gravity — and the pink ones being rubbery versions of the blue ones. There will also usually be movable items that — if struck by the ball — will immediately activate, which can include: boosters that can accelerate the ball in one of the four cardinal directions, items that reverse gravity, and even items that slow the ball down. Furthermore, even though there is nothing that you may do to alter the directional arrow on any of the power-ups you are currently assigned, you are always free to rotate each and every last one of your given blocks to the precise angle you deem most appropriate.
Moving these blocks and power-ups around the screen is done by physically placing a finger on any of your items and then dragging them to precisely where your want it to be located. Furthermore, a rotation icon — which will appear next to the whichever block you most recently touched — can be used whenever you feel that one of your blocks needs to have its angle modified. Finally — once everything is placed — a button in the lower right hand corner is used to begin the experiment, and can also be used to abort the experiment early (which also returns everything back to where you first you placed them).
The fact that Simple Ball features (usually) accurate physics cane make for some wild bouts of chaos at times, and can even occasionally result in you discovering a victory method that the developer probably didn’t intend for. Although it might take you many attempts to figure out how to get the ball from Point A over to Point B, it will always be a profoundly rewarding experience when you finally mange to pull it off. Furthermore, you can do each of the 75 levels — sans the need for any IAPs — in any order that you should happen to feel like choosing (meaning that getting stuck won’t be your adventure’s end).
The flipside of having such realistic physics is that you can often discover precisely the solution that the developer had in mind, yet afterwards can still need to attempt roughly twenty additional iterations before you finally get all of your blocks perfectly positioned. This process is then further impeded by controls that don’t always want to let you grab the blocks all of the time (I believe this might be because of a screen size issue, as block grabbing always seemed to work easier when I used my pinky finger). It can also be quite difficult to make careful adjustments to a block’s position, which is then further exacerbated by the complete and total lack of an “undo last block movement” option.
While the difficulties in moving blocks around probably stemmed from Mandeep Jutla testing Simple Ball only on an iPad, the game’s most extreme moments of frustration happen when the actual bugs start occurring. Earlier in this review I proclaimed that the physics in this game were ‘usually accurate’, which sadly means there are also times when the exact same circumstances result in everything having entirely different results. There were levels where the final solution actually didn’t work the previous time that I ran the experiment, and all of this involved not a single block or power-up being moved between attempts (and no, this wasn’t one of the stages involving moving parts either).
These physics inconsistencies will start to quickly wear away your patience, making you wonder — especially when you’re extremely stuck — if Mandeep Jutla’s intended solution for the current level is one that has a chance of only sometimes working as intended. Worse still will be situations where the physics seem to do completely impossible things just to spite you, such as a level that forces you to bank the ball around a corner only to then have it consistently roll in the opposite direction when it finally touches the ground. There are even stages where the rotation command will stop working after the first attempt, forcing you to reset the entire stage to default before things will work correctly again (thus further exacerbating the already finicky process of lining things up exactly).
It is a pity that Simple Ball is currently plagued by all of these control issues and bugs, as the game would have otherwise been a shining example of how game play is far more important than pretty graphics. I do sincerely hope that Mandeep Jutla works on a patch to rectify these issues, as the groundwork already laid down in Simple Ball has the potential to become something truly amazing. Until then, those unsure as to whether or not they wish to invest in Simple Ball’s premise might wish to first try out the alternative free version of the game (whose only difference is the existence of in-game ads).
iFanzine Verdict: Simple Ball is a brutally hard physics puzzle game — complete with extremely minimalist graphics — that challenges you to place blocks and power ups in order to guide your ball to each level’s end zone, with there being 75 levels in total. Although it can be very rewarding to master each of the game’s various levels — which you furthermore aren’t forced to do in sequence — the game is sadly plagued with many control issues that make it hard to win, and worse yet has bugs that get in the way also. I sincerely hope that Mandeep Jutla intends to update Simple Ball as the game has a solid foundation so far, until then those unsure about whether or not they want to purchase the game can try out the alternative advertisement supported free edition.