March 5, 2011
Getting the ball from start to finish is the goal in Switchball and to accomplish this task players switch between different types of balls depending on the situation. A regular marble ball is the standard, it's basically the middle ground for all of the game's mechanics. Metal balls are introduced early on which are capable of moving heavy objects, but as a result, they sacrifice speed and maneuverability. They are also magnetic, which becomes an important feature in certain puzzles. Air balls are extremely light which gives them the ability to float when filled with helium, however, everything comes at a cost. Air balls are not able to move any objects and can be blown off course by wind. The most intriguing of the lot, the power ball, can be charged up to gain boost, jump or magnetic abilities. Choosing the right type of ball and combination of abilities is crucial to puzzle solving in Switchball. This system makes for some very fun levels and truly makes the game stand out.
The physics in Switchball also separate it from the crowd. Several factors must be taken into account such as speed, mass, magnetism, and wind in order to complete the various puzzles, adding to the game's depth. Everything throughout the environments reacts like it should which helps create some innovative puzzles in the later stages of the game. Players will be hard pressed to find any object reacting unusually which is a credit to Atomic Elbow.
A simple control scheme is used for Switchball, the left analog stick controls the direction of the ball and the right stick controls the camera, however, players can choose to let the game position the camera by selecting 'auto mode'. Games set in a third person perspective have always struggled with camera control and Switchball is no exception. Having the game control the camera's position works well during the early levels, which feature simple puzzles, but as the complexity increases and the levels become more vertical, the camera can get caught behind pieces of the environment, obscuring the player's vision. Switching to manual control corrects this problem, but when speed is essential to success, particularly in the final world, fighting with the camera gets frustrating. This issue doesn't break Switchball, far from it, but it's a drawback to an otherwise well executed game.
Graphically Switchball is a fairly good looking game, although nothing to write home about. The levels all look crisp and there are not many low resolution textures, which is impressive considering the player can get up close to pretty much every part of the environment. One downside is the lack of variety between levels; the lighting and colour vary between each world but otherwise they all look essentially the same. The game's sound is largely an afterthought, most of the time it is barely noticeable except when one song has been on repeat for slightly too long. The presentation does not detract from the gameplay in any way.
The single player campaign consists of five worlds, each containing six levels, for a grand total of 30 levels. Most players will complete it in 4 to 5 hours which is fairly substantial given the game's size. A time trial mode is available for players who want an additional challenge; getting a gold level time on the final stages is incredibly difficult rest assured. These features definitely add to Switchball's replayability but it's the online multiplayer that really gives the game lasting appeal. Two modes are available, competitive races and cooperative puzzles, each mode contains four levels. The races pit up to eight players against each other in some narrow and hectic environments. Cutting someone off to reach a shortcut, while difficult, is very satisfying. The two player co-op features puzzles that require coordination between both players to hit certain targets simultaneously, hold objects in place, or open diverging paths; a headset is essential to be successful here. Bottom line, there's a lot of content in this game.
Switchball is an innovative puzzle platformer that takes traditional concepts and adds a great deal of depth and complexity to them. Anyone who enjoys a good puzzle game should check this out as the single player offers a lot of content and continuously throws in new mechanics to keep things fresh. Time trials and leaderboards present a real challenge to those looking for one, and the online multiplayer will keep players coming back for more. The only major criticism is that at times the camera is awkward, however, these frustrating moments are infrequent so they don't ruin the fun.