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Road to Ballhalla (PC) artwork

Road to Ballhalla (PC) review

"Road to Ballhalla proves that sometimes, safely rolling a ball around is easier said than done."

If I'm being honest, which I am, then I have to admit that I primarily played Road to Balhalla because I enjoyed both Marble Madness and Rock of Ages. I figured it would be difficult to go wrong with yet another game about rolling a ball around. You can skip to the end of this review to find out whether or not my assumption was correct, of course, but I'd really rather you read all of the rest of the text I've prepared. It's quite lovely.

In Road to Ballhalla, you roll a ball around. I suggested as much already, but I figure it bears repeating. Just about everything in the game bears repeating, actually, and by that I mean that you will probably die a lot. I certainly did. Levels for the most part aren't all that lengthy, and yet sometimes I found myself failing 60 or 70 times within a single stage. Sometimes, I would lose 2 or 3 balls in the span of 3 to 5 impatient seconds. Fortunately, checkpoints are fairly common.

Road to Ballhalla (PC) image

Road to Ballhalla is divided into four worlds, and each one consists of five standard stages, with extra stuff you can do on the side. I didn't bother with a lot of that, because the game is sufficiently difficult that I was typically relieved just to clear a stage that was absolutely mandatory. I wanted to keep moving forward toward the closing credits, and maintaining momentum was a sufficient challenge already without taking the time to revisit stages and hurry through them more quickly, or to die a lot less or whatever. Dying often is kind of my thing, after all.

Because you are rated on your performance within the various stages, according to how many fiendishly-placed yellow orbs you gather, or how infrequently you die, your inner completionist might feel compelled to play the game for longer than I did. You can score a rating of between 1 and 8 orbs on each stage, and while I typically managed something near the higher end of that range, I didn't let it bother me overly much if I secured a less admirable rating of 2 or a 3. In general, my contentment with mediocrity worked just fine. Later areas are gated off if you don't have enough orbs in your possession, but I only had to go back once to gain a few extra orbs, and going through the tutorial again was enough to do the trick.

So, how are the stages so difficult? Mostly, it comes down to the way they don't leave a lot of room for error. If you brush against a laser, that's fatal. And there are a lot of floors that damage you if you move along them, but you have no choice because they are positioned along narrow hallways through which you absolutely must pass. Often, it's a matter of timing. The damaging point on a floor moves about, in a set pattern, and you can follow behind it and hope that you don't slip up along the way and take damage.

Road to Ballhalla (PC) image

The ball you control has a convenient dash move, which somehow allows it to roll faster. I played the game with an Xbox 360 controller, which seems to be ideal, and I often zipped around while holding the R trigger. The resulting increase in speed isn't enough to move the ball as swiftly as you sometimes might wish, but that also means that you retain control and can move precisely. The problem is that if you are moving speedily and you take any damage at all, whether from a trick floor or a flying orb fired by a nearby trap, that's lethal. Otherwise, your life meter drains a bit.

Puzzles show up a lot over the course of the adventure. A lot of times, you'll see a blue tile, which you can't pass unless you find a glowing orb somewhere nearby that disables it. Sometimes there are more fatal tiles than orbs, so you have to choose your route. Or you might have to get tricky in other ways that are tedious to explain in a review but very clever when you see them in the game.

One stage irritated the heck out of me, and I spent probably 20 minutes clearing it because I absolutely sucked. In that stage, you're trapped in a chamber and there are laser walls all over the place. Most importantly, there are four laser beams that form a gate to the left. To disable them (remember, lasers are fatal), you have to roll over numbered titles. There are four of those tiles, one corresponding to each beam, and each one has an attached timer. So you have to figure out the order that works best to roll over everything, while avoiding numerous laser beams and flying through portals and dashing only sporadically because some of the floors can cause damage and you can't afford to be dashing if that happens.

Road to Ballhalla (PC) image

I didn't enjoy that puzzle at all, but I'm pretty sure that some sick, twisted gamers absolutely will. Maybe you're even one of them. And maybe you'll enjoy the game's sense of humor, which I confess to rather appreciating myself. There are little text taunts that appear along the way, and at one point the game even trash talked me for taking "the easy way." Screw you, game! I was ready to reach Ballhalla!

I've griped a bit in this review, I know, but the fact of the matter is that I did enjoy my time with Road to Ballhalla, at least enough that I can't come down on the game too hard. The visuals are quite minimal, sure, but there's a cool techno soundtrack thumping in the background to make up for it. And there aren't a whole lot of stages, but almost every stage introduces a new gimmick or remixes familiar hazards in a new way that feels unique. The game knows better than to waste my time with a lot of pointless repetition, and I appreciate that.

Overall, I would describe Road to Ballhalla as a challenging and generally pleasant diversion for people who like games about rolling balls around. I assume there are plenty of people in the world who go for that sort of thing, and I am one of them. There's nothing here to make you rethink the genre, and there are no brilliant moments that are likely to stick with you for months or years to come, but the game gets the job done and I didn't run into any glitches along the way. Also, just for the record, I was recognized as the 83rd person to ever reach Ballhalla. I think someone owes me a medal or an iron-on patch for my shirt or something. That would be pretty cool.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 10, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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overdrive posted August 19, 2016:

Your last paragraph reminded me of the good ol' days when you could take a picture of your top score on Pitfall! or Spider Fighter and send it in to Activision to get a decal and feel all special and stuff.

"I wasted my entire 4th grade year trying to figure out a way to keep Harry alive for 20 minutes, so I could score a ton of points!!! I WIN!!!!"
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honestgamer posted August 19, 2016:

Yes, the Activision patch system is what I had in mind when I made the reference in the final paragraph. It was a "clever" nod to the sort of old school players for whom this game is best suited, who I theorize may even read the review. I actually didn't play much Atari as a kid. The 2600 was basically done by the time I became actively aware that video games were an awesome thing that existed, so I never even knew about the patches until after I built this web site and read somewhere--either here or elsewhere--about the program. Too bad for me!

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