"So, Hello Kitty's Sanrio buddies DO have a competitive side. As the referee, she's above it all, but her pals grimace and showboat after each goal in the soccer and breakout amalgam that is Sanrio World Smash Ball. (SWSB.) It's still wholesome fun, from introductory-round enemies adorably whiffing easy kicks to the four-fruit passcodes for continuing at later matches. It even gets away with elevator music between matches. It's just far more intense than you'd expect from Sanrio. "
So, Hello Kitty's Sanrio buddies DO have a competitive side. As the referee, she's above it all, but her pals grimace and showboat after each goal in the soccer and breakout amalgam that is Sanrio World Smash Ball. (SWSB.) It's still wholesome fun, from introductory-round enemies adorably whiffing easy kicks to the four-fruit passcodes for continuing at later matches. It even gets away with elevator music between matches. It's just far more intense than you'd expect from Sanrio.
The rules are simple. You play through thirty best-of-five matches where opponents kick a disc at the other's goal, hoping to knock out the bricks guarding it and fire the disc through the gap. Kicking with a left or right foot sends the disc in a different direction, even sideways if you barely scuff it. Holding a kick button down raises a meter that lets you fire a power shot--sometimes it'll ricochet back off you, blasting away even the domino-bricks that take more than one hit to zap.
This and other clever twists ensure SWSB is no button basher. Often you can sacrifice a hit to your back-line for a power-up, even gouging it for the winning coup. You can scuff a shot on levels where enemies are segregated, then tee up a power shot as the disc spins from side to side. Using the power shot in the wrong place, or when your opponent can return the favor, backfires. And as angling your kicks is largely intuitive, firing in the area of a guarding question-mark block is a huge risk. Hitting it releases a power-up that floats about, so your enemy could destroy your back line or gain power or speed. Targeting your own as a Hail Mary is one of many ways a single point can seesaw before it is decided.
Field layouts also affect style of play. X squares may prevent opponents from meeting or, in some cases, defending their own goal closely. Since the playfield is over a screen tall, you may have to remember your opponent's defensive wall. Diagonal edges cause reflective bounces you're never quite sure of, fans force you to play a sort of zone defense, and bumpers kick the disc in weird directions.
Later levels, of course, combine these, and the frenetic action seems to be about luck, except the computer consistently knocks out double the bricks you do with its seemingly random bashes. Imitating him leads to closer losses. Then you guess what he does wrong, and voila. Slowly you learn some levels or areas favor speedy or powerful players, and others require gaming the angles or even elbowing your opponent out. Still others have a miniature golf feel. One with fences that alternate on the left or right side lets you time a power shot allowing the meanest pleasure in the game: watching your opponent swiveling around to kick the disc away. He spin-kicks up a frustrated storm of stars more violent than the following he-scored-on-me fit. Aww. They're cute when they're mad.
What's not cute is when the disc bounces between two bumpers in a no-entry zone, especially one near the goal. Unfortunately, several later levels allow for this. Even if you guess where the disc comes out, the computer will probably be more patient and alert than you. Too often you'll get down 0-2 and just want it to end, but suddenly you're relatively lucky your opponent seems equally ineffective, and you feel a bit guilty resetting a game this innocent.
Fortunately, you can find strategies to win forty percent of the points and eventually stumble through. You never really feel as though you're going to get stuck on any level, as you can usually build up ways to have a better chance of hitting his back-line by accident. They're rarely repeated from different levels, although learning how to shoot down tunnels, dribble the disc towards goal, or mix up kicks can break down your opponent.
With all this variety it's a little sad you don't have more Sanrio friends to play against. You can play as one of four: big-mouthed Tabo, the token boy in the Sanrio world (he's got speed,) raccoon-dog Pokopon (defense, with a tail wiggle when he scores,) walking fish Hangyodon (strength,) or Keroppi the frog (all-around ability.) You loop through the three you didn't choose as opponents, with the giant pig Ebbirebu, the only Sanrio non-regular, appearing in some later rounds. He's the closest you get to a bad guy, with his non-inflated head and eyes and how he whistles coolly in each round after scoring, instead of bouncing around like a normal Sanrio character. Unlocking him or other characters on winning level thirty would've been nice.
The level backgrounds also get repetitive. SWSB offers several appealing themes: a casino with cards for walls, underwater, a candy factory, a forest, and general pastels, with appropriate knick-knacks to the side. It's so effortlessly pleasing early on, and with playfields constantly changing, I'm surprised so much scenery gets recycled. Overall, though, there's enough, and it's good there's a Sanrio game where strategy outstrips graphics, as usually it's the other way--a more serious flaw.
Dwelling on these minor issues, though, leaves me feeling like a kid whining "More!" SWSB, as a well-planned hybrid of two classic games with plenty of tricks but nothing too daunting, doesn't deserve nitpicking. It tops the usual Sanrio fare of simple puzzle games and easily surpasses many bargain sports titles where mastering the power shot or combinations grinds down computer opponents. The wild fantasy world of Sanrio encourages playfields that create unique obstacles to test different skills, and the cute graphics and quick pace make SWSB a joy to fly through even if you get caught on a couple levels. I've spent time being sure there are better sports games than SWSB, and if I've replayed it to gather evidence, I've never wound up seriously looking for that better game.
Community review by aschultz (July 15, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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