A few weeks before SEGA announced that Super Monkey Ball was being remastered, I was sent a copy of The Perplexing Orb from Treefall Studios, the indie developer behind Pitterpot. Funnily enough, this is also a remaster, only this game was originally on the Wii u, unlike Super Monkey ball which is based upon the Wii version. So, why am I bouncing back and forth between Super Monkey Ball and The Perplexing Orb? Both games are very similar in concept – roll a ball through precariously placed floating mazes as you try to make it towards to final goal without falling off.
So, seeing as Super Monkey Ball has now released to a mild reception, how does The Perplexing Orb stack up against its obvious influence and ‘roll’ model? Let’s find out…
The Perplexing Orb reminded me a lot of early Super Monkey Ball games, back before they had a story or purpose, simply rolling around in order to complete a stage and then move onto the next. – that’s exactly what you’ll be doing here. The game is split into seven worlds, each with a varying number of stages for you to complete. I can’t remember the exact number in each world but in total there are over 60, similar to SMB. Another similarity is the length of each stage, with some of them taking mere seconds to complete if you simply head straight towards your goal – which is obviously knocking over a totem pole, as you do…
On a side note, another similarity is to the game Marble it Up!, A physics-based marble-rolling game we reviewed last year.
The big difference here is that you’re not timed. That’s right, no clock counting down the seconds until you get a mandatory ‘game over’ and no pressure to rush and possibly slip up and fall off into the never-ending abyss. Simply take your time and move at your own pace. Each stage also has a number of ‘artifacts’ scattered around awaiting your collection. These are used to unlock bonus levels and the challenge mode for some more intense and difficult stages.
Upon completion of the bonus stages (which are probably the easiest stages in the game), you gain access to a few new skins for your Orb, my favourite being the Pitterpot skin as it’s basically the protagonist from that game rolling around like he’s in a tiny Zorb, trying not to fall off the edge.
The base game itself is rather simplistic in terms of its challenge. Sure, there are some levels which will challenge you a bit more than others, especially when you’re looking for the secret shortcuts in order to get the related trophy, but simply completing the stages won’t provide too much difficulty. Just like SMB, you’ll start on levels which have walls or barriers around the side which protect you from falling to your doom prematurely (like the walls they put up for kids when they go bowling). However, you’ll soon be traversing around small, thin ledges with no sides or protection as you try and balance your Pitterpot posture so that one side doesn’t over-weight the other!
However, the first thing you’ll notice when you begin to play is the total opposite of my issue with Super Monkey Ball – the camera. In the SEGA franchise, the camera wobbles violently and zooms in far too much, increasing the difficulty artificially. In The Perplexing Orb, the camera is static, you can’t control it, nor does it wobble or attach itself to the rear of your ball. Instead, you’ll always be looking at the stage from the same angle and position, moving left, right, forwards, or backwards depending on which way the stage expands to. But, it’ll never rotate or tilt.
For the most part, this isn’t that bad – it’s zoomed out enough that you can see a decent amount and you don’t get motion sick with all the toing and froing. However, there are a few levels in which you have to fall off the edge of a cliff and basically hope you land on a platform down below, rather than roll-off to the side or simply drop into darkness. These particular courses have been made purposely like this to create a challenge and make you worry about the unknown, but it can be a bit confusing when you can’t see what’s happening properly.
Once you’re done with the main game, which I think took me around an hour, there are four challenge levels you must complete if you’re going for the platinum. These are much harder and really challenge your ball-balancing abilities. For me, the first three weren’t an issue but the final one must have taken me around 30-45 minutes to complete due to the very small pathways and static camera. It really bumped up my playtime and I had fun playing it, but it did frustrate me quite a bit. But, that’s the whole point of these levels.
Similarly, there’s a new set of four ‘Brutal Challenge’ levels which were specially created for this remaster. These are downright absurd! The ball is about five times as big as the path, meaning the breeze from a dogs fart could cause you to topple into the depths below! I must have spent at least an hour or two trying to complete the first stage and then I gave up – these are far too difficult for me. I recall that when the game originally came out, the developer was even offering a cash prize to anyone who managed to complete all four levels – I wonder if anyone ever claimed it…
Finally, there’s even an included local multiplayer mode – which was a surprise. I’ve not personally tried this mode out but taking a look at the menu, up to four players can work against each other on one of four maps. Two of them are simple ‘Get to the totem pole’ races and the other two require you to collect a chest and then race to the pole. You also have items and attacks which you can use on the other players. Seriously, the more I read about this, the more I want to try it out. The next time I have mates over, I’ll boot up the game and have a go against them – it sounds more interesting than the Super Monkey Ball multiplayer.
Just like Pitterpot, the visuals in The Perplexing Orb are very basic and simplistic, although there have been some modifications over the original Wii U version. However, as I said previously, the game has been developed by a single developer studio, so don’t go in expecting highly realistic or artistic visuals, this is more about the gameplay over the eye candy. Speaking of which, I thought the physics within the game worked pretty well, giving the orb momentum and weight as you try and traverse through the floating mazes. Although, your orb does seem to have less gravity than usual objects, allowing it to hover slightly when making jumps and going over edges – which technically works in your favour as you can save yourself or perform exaggerated jumps with ease.
I thought the actual gameplay itself was a little too easy, delivering little challenge in the main game, allowing me to complete all of the main stages in around an hour. However, the Brutal Challenges are far too hard and the final challenge wasn’t impossible but it was rage-inducing at times. A gradual difficulty curve leading up to that challenge would have been better, preparing you for what’s to come without just throwing you in the deep end.
The music is catchy and varies depending on the world you’re in – although it does seem to repeat quite often with gaps, rather than a seamless transition. Other than that, I found the music helped when I was getting frustrated in the challenge levels.
Despite being a simplistic take on the Super Monkey Ball format, The Perplexing Orb was a fun game to play. If you’re willing to overlook the last-gen visuals (as this was originally a Wii U indie game) and are willing to play with a fixed camera rather than one that follows you, this isn’t a bad game to play when you have a few hours to spare. Trophy hunters will like the fact that it’s an easy platinum, and those who like the format but hate the timers and pressures you get in SEGA’s franchise will like the more relaxed nature of the game. There’s even a four-player multiplayer mode which sounds intriguing – for the price, I’d say give it a go if you like physics-based ball-rolling games.
If you pick up The Perplexing Orb, let me know if you manage to complete the Brutal Challenges – I think they’re impossible but I’m sure avid fans of Super Monkey Ball will find a way to complete them! Also, the game seems to only be available in the American regions on PSN, so you’ll need an American or Canadian PSN account to pick up this game.
The Perplexing Orb$5.99
- - Nice selection of levels with varying difficulties and visual styles
- - Unlockable orbs, including Pitterpot, and challenge levels which will really test you
- - Local multiplayer for up to four players in splitscreen
- - The music is a bit repetitive with audible gaps between repeats.
- - Although helpful at times, the gravitational pull on the orb seems a little too floaty and forgiving
- - The new Brutal levels are borderline impossible - thankfully there's no trophies related to them
- - I didn't have an issue with it but some people may not like the static camera angle
- - It won't take you long to play all the stages and get the platinum - about one to two hours based on your skill level