Creative restraint is one of the best things about indie development. Keeping gameplay hooks to a minimum allows smaller studios to execute on an idea fully, providing us with fun and cohesive experiences. Some hooks, though, just aren’t compelling enough to fill up an entire game, no matter the amount of iteration.
I feel like this is Berzerk Ball [$.99] in a nutshell. It has a fantastic suite of rewards systems, but it’s ultimately a shallow game that offers a lackluster campaign and doesn't bring meaningful new ideas that bring anything to the “press a button to launch something” genre, which has been done to death on the App Store.
But I’m not here to harp on how much Berzerk Ball leaves much to be desired conceptually. Instead, I want to turn your attention to its reward systems because I think they’re a brilliant spot of design that gives the game longer legs.
Backing up, Berzerk Ball is a game about hitting things. The goal is to launch a flesh-and-blood "geek" as far as you can by hitting him with a violent object. It isn’t rocket science; you pick an avatar, line up an accuracy and a power meter, and then tap the screen to whack the geek.
The geek then sails through a randomly generated level, perhaps colliding into various bits of the environment that can either stop him cold or propel him even more. Later, you’ll get the ability to hit him multiple times after the initial launch, adding even more distance.
The coolest rewards systems actually inform your play, and the RPG leveling mechanic delivers in spades. Each avatar has core stats that can be bumped up by experience points earned from whacking the geek. Slowly, as you play, accumulation of EXP becomes the focus instead of basic scoring, which I gather is the actual point of the geek-launching endeavor.
In part, this is because the effects of a level-up are quick and palpable; you feel the new power and it effects how you approach hitting the geek. Hilariously, more EXP also means more opportunities to earn even more EXP with bigger and bigger hits. The system sort of feeds into itself.
Also, there's no risk involved in EXP gain. You'll never lose your levels, no matter how poorly you perform. You're constantly building in Berzerk Ball, which is pretty cool feeling that keeps you playing.
Not following me? Think about this in the context of a popular MMO like World of Warcraft. Fans get wrapped up in the social elements and raiding, sure, but for the humans playing the game, WOW's appeal is the race to the top: the EXP points.
And, really, there's no meaningful repercussions to failure in WOW, either. You lose a few armor ticks or whatever -- no big deal when compared to possibly losing entire levels like in other MMOs, which is probably a small reason as to why WOW is so damn dominant.
Leveling is powerful -- who doesn't like actively making something better? -- and Berzerk Studio absolutely NAILS this mechanic in its latest iOS release, adding much more to the overall experience. It's really surprising to me when I think about how much time I've spent in this game despite the fact that I recognize it doesn't have that much to offer. Hats off to these folks for making it work.
I’d also like to make a quick mention of the achievements system, which also kind of scooped me up and had me doing stupid stuff in order to earn them. There’s been a lot of writing over the years about the effectiveness of achievements, so I’ll spare you the high-brow crap, but I will say this: what’s employed here will probably keep you hooked.
And look, I’m not the kind of guy that reflects on a game like Berzerk Ball. It’s not a particularly thoughtful project. After all, it’s premised on bloodying a nerd by drilling him him with shotguns, axes, and the sort. But it managed to grab me in a way that many of its brethren -- flash game or not -- and does so with a keen understanding of how to reward players for their time.
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