The Ball Game (Electronic Zoo) Review | Zzap - Everygamegoing


The Ball Game
By Electronic Zoo
Commodore 64

Published in Zzap #77

The Ball Game

A rather boastful title this, do they mean The Ball Game, a program so playable it puts footie, cricket and tennis in the shade? Or alternatively it could be some risque refrence to the men on the cover - naked but for crash hats and jetpacks! Stuart Wynne kicks both these theories into touch...

Despite the title, this doesn't really have that much to do with balls. They're really only the tokens and could be any shape at all. As for the guff about each player representing Earth, Wind, Fire or Water - who are they trying to kid? The Ball Game is a puzzle game, plain and simple, so it's a relief the attempt at providing some kind of scenario is limited to a few lines.

In the game each player takes it in turn to move, a player can go in any direction (except diagonals) for either one or two spaces. If you move one space, then a ball is created behind you. A move of two spaces is a leap, however, and a ball isn't created - instead, at the new location you will turn to switch any ball within a one-square radius to your colour (even balls diagonal to you).

All these moves are made by cursor control - moving the joystick left/right cycles through all the squares the player can move to, pressing fire executes the move. If you place the cursor on the square you're standing on, you are teleported to a random location - if there are still locations with unfilled spaces beside them. If there aren't any such locations then you exit the level to await the other players teleporting out.

A fairly simple idea, but scoring complicates gameplay considerably. You see, tiles vary in value from 4 to 2 to 1. If you create a ball on a 4-tile, you get forty points, while on a 1-tile you get ten points. But if your opponent then converts your ball to his colour he too gets either forty, twenty or ten points. Big scores can be built up in this way, but they don't determine who wins a game...

Instead, when players can move no more and warp out all the balls are counted. If you have four 1-tile balls you get forty points; if your opponent only has one 2-tile he gets twenty points. So you win, even if your opponent only has one 2-tile he gets twenty points. So you win, even if your opponent created all the balls and scored masses of points *in* the level. The winner then receives an extra teleport (or life) and the points earned at the end of the level are added to his normal score (everyone else gets nothing, no points are added on to their existing totals). An extra life is also awarded every thousand points scored.

Lives are not quite as critical as in other games, however. Once everyone but the last player is dead, the game continues only until the current level is finished. Then the points for that level are calculated as normal and the winner is the one with the most points overall. No account is taken of how many lives you have - you may not have lost a single life but you get no extra points for that! This makes suicide a very useful tactic, either by using up lives by teleporting or by failing to take a turn at all (this option is only available when the move timer is switched on). This is all very odd and made worse by the high score table which doesn't indicate which player has what score - there's no "player one/brown player, input name now". On close matches this can be very bewildering!

To begin with, four-player matches (with up to three computer-controlled opponents) make winning something a matter of luck, especially if you manage to turn lots of balls to your colour right at the end. You then score twice for them - firstly, for converting them, then secondly when the game ends they're added to your ball points total! Playing a friend in two-player mode is more straightforward and it's satisfying trying to manoeuvre him into traps (so he can't move except by teleporting), without computer players confusing things. As you get better, then the most players the better!

Similarly the initial grid is a bit dull, a simple 8 x 8 square. But as you progress through the 100 levels, holes appear in the grid to complicate things massively - making traps a lot easier to effect. (If you want, you can start at the beginning of any group of ten levels - 10, 20, 30, etc).

A hundred levels is a big challenge but for me the scoring system, the random teleport and the stupid high score table made it all rather frustrating. It's fun initially, especially with four players, and two-player games give a satisfyingly competitive challenge - but in the end the complexity seemed to me to conceal flaws.

All right, if the last player alive went on he could easily win with no opponents, but not taking account of lives seems almost as unfair.

The Ball Game has some obvious resemblance to games such as Othello, and fans of that might like this as long as they accept the lives problem.

Moreover it's not often you get four players in a game and they make a welcome change here.


With few rules, The Ball Game is dead easy to pick up but hard to master since - like Othello - the board position can change dramatically so you're never sure who's going to win - especially with teleports adding a random element.

It's all intriguing fun, especially with four players continually thwarting each other. One problem I came across was the occasional stalemate at the end of a level, when two players are left jumping around the same squares - neither is prepared to teleport out first because his opponent will subsequently nick loads of balls.

This, along with the rather strange scoring system, mars an otherwise excellent board game.


Presentation 68%
Attractive, bubbly intro and comprehensive options - including four-player option. Manual is poor, however, and high score table stupid.

Graphics 69%
Effective with a few nice animated effects.

Sound 62%
Pleasant intro tune with reasonable spot FX.

Hookability 75%
Easy to begin with, simply messing around an easy skill levels is no problem, however mastering scoring system takes time.

Lastability 67%
Four skill levels and 100 levels provide a formidable, if unvaried challenge. On the toughest skill level, computer players take about fifty seconds per move (speeding up a little later on) and one-on-one aren't incredibly tough.

Overall 70%
An intriguing game which is more complex than it first seems.