Road to Ballhalla from Torched Hill and tinyBuild is a brutal rhythm-driven ball-rolling puzzle game. It reminds me of a modern day ‘Labyrinth’ puzzle, only instead of rolling the ball through a maze in order to dodge holes as you make your way to the exit, you’re tasked with dodging lasers and deadly floor panels as you collect small balls ala Pacman style! Combined with the developer’s great sense of humour, the game is both addictive and challenging as you make your way through four stages towards the fabled Ballhalla.
Do you have the Balls?!
Road to Ballhalla‘s main story and goal is simply the title of the game, you’re a small ball that must roll its way through all of the challenges placed before it in order to enter the legendary Ballhalla. It’s a nice simple story that isn’t exactly deep or brought up more than a few times, but it’s a fun little storyline. What the game does have, in place of the story, is tonnes of puns, sarcastic comments and witty remarks from the developer placed throughout the game – which I absolutely love!
Did you ever play The Stanley Parable many years ago? The writing in this game reminds me of that at points. For example, you’ll reach a fork at one point in the earlier levels which has two directions you can go in – one leads to more yellow balls and the other is labelled as a dead-end yet you can’t see the end of the road. If you take the dead-end route, you end up at a dead end with no way back! The text pops up and tells you that you should have listened and the only way back is to destroy your ball with the push of a button and respawn at an earlier checkpoint.
Other things like that pop up later on where the narration will ask what you’re doing if you ignore what it says and at times it will tell you things like “get a run-up and you can jump the gap” only for you to die in the hole and the game to tell you it was lying and it didn’t think you would actually try it. I think I laughed at Road to Ballhalla more than I’ve ever done for a puzzle game before – which was a nice change – although, the actual puzzle side of the game is equally as good…
Play with your Balls:
So then, what is Road to Ballhalla? It’s quite simple but presented in a fiendish way. You control a small ball which must be navigated through various stages as you collect smaller bright yellow balls and avoid all the obstacles thrown at you by the game. Your journey will start off nice and easy with areas that have solid walls which stop you from falling into the void around the edges, this is soon removed and the path to your death is freely opened until later on when the walls are replaced by lasers which kill you on touch. As you get further into the game, more and more obstacles are added in order to make your job harder, Giant Red Balls of Death, jump pads, moving lasers, switches, and more.
The controls themselves are super easy – move with the left stick, brake with Circle and go faster with R2. The game is super responsive and you always have full control over your balls.
What amused me was the way the game’s narration tries to tempt you to do new things which makes you wonder if the developer is having a laugh at your expense or are they really trying to help you. There are times where it will give you suggestions of what to do in terms of gameplay mechanics such as the blue squares – It’ll advise you to just roll into them, which leads to your death. Then they tell you to run at them – death again. Finally, the narrator says to pick up a blue ball and use that to open the path but should we now believe them?
(B)all the rules:
Each stage has three goals: 1. Finish the level, 2. Don’t die more than X number of times, 3. Collect all of the small balls.
It seems simple but this is where the puzzle aspect comes into play. If you’re aiming to collect all of the smaller balls then you’ll need to traverse through the paths of alternating lasers, work out which switches to press, uncover secret paths with leaps of faith, and even take advantage of cubby holes to hide in so the giant red ball doesn’t squash you! Road to Ballhalla is so much fun and challenging, on some levels I died a lot and on others, I breezed through them with no problem at all as I collected all of the small balls with little to no trouble. I even got my parents to have a go, as they like puzzle games, and they quickly became frustrated as they weren’t very good at staying on the path once the walls were removed!
One thing which surprised me, and I’m really quite relieved about, is the fact that there is no timer in the main game of Road to Ballhalla. The game operates on a ‘3-stars’ kind of progression system, only this time it’s eight squares. You can get up to four squares for not dying and four for collecting all the smaller balls – the amount you get is reduced if you die a lot or miss some balls. You can basically just take your time as you go through each level as the time never comes into deciding what your final score is – which is a very welcome change as I don’t like it when you’re forced to rush through the game just to get more points or an extra star.
That being said, progression is locked behind a ‘square’ paywall. So you do actually have to earn a certain amount of them in order to progress to the next chapter which is usually something I’m not too keen on but Road to Ballhalla never felt unfair as I was always progressing with no issues.
If you managed to master all of the story levels, what can you do next? I’m going to backtrack a little here as the extra mode you’ll unlock is the speed run mode. This modes main purpose is to get through each of the levels as fast as you can. There is no collecting of smaller balls but all the hazards are there and you receive up to three stars (boo) depending on how fast you get through the level. So yeah, I’m glad that isn’t part of the ‘main game’ but it is still present as it’s own mode which you unlock when you have completed all of the chapters levels.
Another thing I think I need to bring up, which is a bit disappointing, is the lack of a level editor. This is the second game published by tinyBuild recently, Guts and Glory being the other, which has launched with a level editor on the PC version (albeit this one was back in 2016) but not on consoles. Implementing the level editor would add many hours to the gameplay time and allow for people all around the world to share their own brutal designs and creative new challenges. Hopefully we’ll get the level editor one day on consoles.
One of the things I really love about Road to Ballhalla is its use of dynamic music to create music-driven gameplay. The game basically runs all of its hazards on the tempo of the game which means you can perfectly time when the floor will change into a dangerous red colour, when lasers will alternate or when an opening becomes free. It’s a helping hand which isn’t super obvious at first yet once you see and realise it, it’s a massive help in avoiding the obstacles.
Graphically, I really love how Road to Ballhalla looks. It’s a 3d maze that is floating on top of a void of death with lots of lighting effects and a great sense of speed and momentum. Everything is brightly coloured and clear to make out with no dodgy camera angles, apart from when the game wants to mess with you. The game itself ran really smooth on my PS4 Pro, with no obvious signs of slow-down, and upon death, you’ll respawn within seconds – which is great as you’ll probably die a lot in the later levels!
I really enjoyed playing through Road to Ballhalla, as did my parents as well – even though it frustrated them a lot as they progressed. It’s a really nice change to have a puzzle game combined with the amount of comedy and charm which you see within this title as usually there is little interaction outside of maybe the menu or a tutorial. It’s a shame the workshop or an alternative level editor wasn’t implemented for the console release of the game; however, the levels with are contained within the base game will keep you busy for quite a while as you aim to meet all objectives and complete the speed runs. I’ll certainly keep at this game as I try and get 100% (no Platinum), although it’s gonna be hard as the difficulty does gradually increase to the point of pure frustration!
Road to Ballhalla is a surprisingly great puzzle game. At first glance, it may not seem like much, but the game is hilariously narrated and the levels get more and more challenging the further you get. Maybe not one for those who get frustrated easily, but for the rest of us, this brilliant little ball-based rhythmic puzzle game is very enjoyable and bound to keep you entertained for hours upon hours. Can you cautiously work your way through all of the obstacles blocking you from getting to your final resting place?
Road to Ballhalla£11.99
- Very entertaining and funny dialogue
- Difficulty increases perfectly as the game goes from easy to ball-blisteringly hard
- The music dynamically adjusts to fit the patterns of the hazards
- Lots of replayability to obtain missed goals and speed runs
- Looks great and runs really smooth
- No level creator on consoles
- Can be very unforgiving and cause a lot of frustration at times