VIDEOBALL is tried, tested, and true. It comes from Action Button Entertainment, the California-based indie developer behind PSM gems Tuffy the Corgi and the Tower of Bones and Ten by Eight. VIDEOBALL is accessible. It can be picked up and played by casual and hardcore gamers alike. VIDEOBALL can be intense. You can tell because the title is in all caps. VIDEOBALL is the best sports game to release on the PlayStation Network since Rocket League and Sportsfriends. If you challenge me at VIDEOBALL, I will destroy you… or at least have an outrageous time trying.
My personal history with VIDEOBALL started back at PAX Prime 2013, where I played it in a van outside of the expo then in a Midnight City VIP super special media party (it wasn’t that special). Since then, I have cast it from my mind lest I long for it too strongly and start nagging Tim Rogers, the game’s Lead Designer, on Twitter and at events. I purposefully skipped it at PAX East this year because I didn’t want any half-assed taste of the game with instructions on how to play and all that; I wanted the whole thing. About a week ago, I got it. It’s so good that I was shocked to see it priced at $9.99 when I started writing this review. Go buy it. These words will be here when you get back.
Okay, fine, so you want a bit of the typical review structure. Here’s the bit where I write how to play VIDEOBALL:
VIDEOBALL is a competitive sports game that’s part ice hockey, part soccer, and part some ancient sport where you throw triangles at circles in order to coax them into goals. The game is played from a top-down perspective, looking like a conglomoration of basic shapes to the ignorant onlooker. Its minimal graphical style and simplistic, deep gameplay brings to mind Hokra. There are several differences between those two games, the largest in my mind being the fact that VIDEOBALL can be played 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and 3 on 3, making it an incredibly versatile multiplayer game. You can also sub in CPU players and select from a long list of AI behaviors. Each player controls a triangle that skates around the screen using either analogue stick. Hold any button to start charging your shot, then let go to shoot a triangle (with a distinguishing trail) in the direction you’re pointing. If your player-triangle makes contact with any shot or the ball (the circle) itself, you’re stunned for about a second and can’t shoot. The point of the game is to push the ball(s) completely into your opponent’s goal area. Reach the target score to win.
And the bit about why/how it’s good:
It’s an easy game to understand; a combination of sports rules that have been ingrained in our heads since birth. Once you catch on, though, it gets very deep indeed. First off, there isn’t much friction between your player-triangle and the level. This leads to a slippery sort of motion that you have to learn to tame by playing a bit. Don’t be too flustered if you find yourself bumping into the ball a lot during your first few games. There is a subtle touch to the movement and in many cases, less is more. The other major part of the game that adds to its depth is the staggered shots. In total, you have three different shots you can fire and one square-shaped wall that you can place. The first shot can be shot by tapping a button (I typically use X or R1). It doesn’t move the ball much if the ball is currently stopped, but it’s good at pushing it along while it’s already in motion. The first shot can also be useful for temporarily deposing opponents and reflecting the level three mondo-shot. More on that in a sec. The second charge level is a medium-sized shot that pushes the ball harder. It’s great because it doesn’t disappear on contact; a well-angled medium shot will follow the ball across a large distance. The third level large shot rockets the ball on impact, leaving behind it an identifying trail. The reason the trail is important is because a ball hit by a level three shot can be rerouted by any level shot. It’s an exhilarating risk-reward trade-off that requires you to be mindful of what all players are doing at all time. The level three shot is also only available for about half a second, after which it turns into a square wall that you can drop anywhere on the field. Walls can be destroyed with a few shots but are especially useful on some of the levels.
The music and sound effects are spot-on. From the upbeat main theme and the even-toned narrator to the Chromeo-esque funky in-game tunes, I am absolutely in love with VIDEOBALL‘s sound design. It works so well with the rest of the game’s juicy presentation (bouncy walls, stretchy text, God of War-like frame stops) that I get goosebumps just thinking about the design deftness behind the game as a whole.
There are a lot of arenas (I just counted 35) in VIDEOBALL, a feature I’m rather fond of. Each arena necessitates a different playstyle, which will keep the game from growing stale any time soon. After a few hours of playing with friends, I noticed a trend. At first, we all looked like a bunch of young soccer players, constantly running towards the ball(s) with no real motivation but to shoot it a whole lot. By the end of our play session, we had developed skills that led to planning and executing strategies on the fly. Our roles changed often between offense, defense, tackling, reflecting and more. To everyone’s delight, the 2 on 2 games we wound up playing were way different (and closer) than the 1 on 1 duels we started the day with. (I had a few years’ practice over my friends and wouldn’t go easy on ’em.) One minor drawback a couple of us experienced – When the action got particularly heated (many players shooting at once, the screen stopping to register each goal, mega-hit, tacklet, etc), a shot might stick and inadvertently charge to another level. Since the game does hinge on precise timing and accurate aiming, having a shot stick was totally noticeable and slightly frustrating. That being said, I can’t wait to get absolutely demolished in ranked online once the game officially launches. Even without any online functionality whatsoever, VIDEOBALL is outstanding. As long as the servers hold up and there isn’t lag during netplay, it should wind up being one of the top PSN titles of all time. That’s VIDEOBALL!
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Simple, deep gameplay.
- Single-player and multiplayer.
- Golden Age (offline) and online.
- Off-the-hook sound design.
What I Dislike:
- Rare, but noticeable shot-sticking.