Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time getting into trailers anymore. Spend enough time following the games industry and you eventually develop an elephantine level of skin thickness to ward off promotion and hype. Even being as jaded as I am towards anything but gameplay footage, every so often, I see a video or promo and I just know in my gut that I’m going to love the game.

It happened for me on the PC with Magicka’s brilliantly funny video campaign earlier this year, and when I saw the trailer for Radballs [$2.99] a gigantic smile spread across my face. I knew that if the execution of the gameplay was even half as clever as Glow Play’s promotional efforts that I’d have a pretty wicked time on my hands. Now that the game is out? Well, I shan’t mince words any longer; my expectations were both met and exceeded.

Radballs is first and foremost (for me) an 80's retro lovefest. Don’t confuse my meaning here; I’m not talking 8-bit sprites but rather the type of art style that screams Breakin’. The colors, the patterns, and entire aesthetic are simply spot on nailed. As a gamer raised in the 80's, I found myself awash in memories of parachute pants, Z Cavariccis, Hypercolor t-shirts, Front 242, KMFDM, Ministry, New Order, and adolescent shame grown fuzzy over time.

The music for the game is fantastic, and kudos to Neil Voss’ (New Tetris, Tetrisphere) work producing the soundtrack. I know I just mentioned a bunch of new wave and industrial bands, but that's not what this game is about. It’s a mix of original electro tunes, tracks from lesser known artists but excellent dudes like Daze and Com Truise, and even some remixes of a few songs by Ok Go. Despite being from contemporary musicians, the electro/synth angle on all the tracks complements the games 80's vibe, dare I say, to the max?

Honestly, the phrase “match-3” has such a stigma on it now that it’s hardly fair to use it for fear that you will turn people off before they’ve given a game a fair shake. But, that’s the inspiration for Radballs’ gameplay. Instead of lining up 3 Radballs, the goal is to build at least a 2x2 formation that then fuses into a MegaRadball. You can add additional Radballs to the formation to increase the size. The larger the MegaRadball is when it is cleared from the board, the more radness gets added to your meter. I’ll come back to the meter in a bit.

The way music is integrated into the game mechanics is simple and elegant. Timed to the beat of whatever track is playing, a wave will periodically travel down the screen and clear any formed MegaRadballs it passes over. The cool mechanic here is that you can directly manipulate the wave. Touch the wave and flick it back upwards, and you can buy yourself more time to build larger/more MegaRadballs to increase your bonus.

Even more tubular, however, is the fact that you can grab the wave and scratch it back and forth over a MegaRadball to charge it up for extra radness. Manipulating the wave directly affects the music as if you were scratching or cutting on a record. It’s this integration of the auditory experience driving the gameplay and vice versa that transforms what might otherwise be horribly vanilla into something unique and outstanding.

Now, back to the radness meter. Radballs handles its difficulty curve better than almost any game I’ve ever seen on the App Store. The game is not over when your screen fills with Radballs, it just gives you more material for matching. The only way you can lose is if your radness meter depletes over time. As you progress through the different levels, the meter depletes faster. This requires you to employ more advanced tactics and learn to effectively use the few available power-ups to be successful.

For example, setting up a cascade where a MegaRadball being cleared results in another fusing together creates additional radness. Even though it took me some time to get the hang of setting up those complex formations in advance, if the meter ever started running low, I could buy myself just enough time on the radness meter to keep from losing by relying on the techniques I’d already mastered.

So, while the game forces you to get better, you aren’t punished as you’re learning. The skills you’ve practiced will keep you alive enough to evolve your strategy as the game ramps up. This makes for a smooth and enjoyable ride throughout the course of the game, and eliminates the ragequit factor so prevalent in titles where time is a factor. This gives Radballs a bump up in the “just one more round” category.

Contributing to the game’s longevity are two important features. Going to the settings on any level will allow you to switch from arcade mode (which ends when you clear 8 radness meters) to an endless mode that only stops when your meter depletes. This is perfect for when you just want to zone out to the music; pick a difficulty level that works for your chilling out needs and then just kick back and get rad.

Taking nothing away from the stellar soundtrack that comes included with Radballs, the music for any game gets old over time. Glow Play’s masterstroke here was to build in the ability for players to use their own music tracks. Following the trail blazed by games like Audiosurf and Beat Hazard, this feature takes your songs and synchronizes the beat wave accordingly. You aren’t just listening to your music – you’re playing to it. Scratching with the beat wave has the same effect on imported tracks as native ones, making for some fun emergent experiences with songs you know and love.

Add tight and responsive touch controls to a list that includes fabulous art design, awesome music, a new twist on an old mechanic, and the ability to bring in your own tracks and you end up with an experience easily worth your time and money. Oh, did I mention it’s universal? Well, it is, and I highly recommend it. Your friends and peers in the forums already know what the score is. Fire up a John Hughes flick and download it when you get a chance.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Lord-Gek-Jordan/1559737263 Tim Lord Gek Jordan

    Here I come to urinate in the Cheerios! 

    I think the presentation is fun, loved the promo video, and even think the mechanics are decent.  I do have some big annoyance, however, that caused me to dump it from my devices fairly immediately:

    1) No REAL highscores:  The only thing the game tracks is your career combined radness points but does not track any sort of highscore for individual runs.

    2) Combos feel meaningless:  I guess they'll be required to survive in higher levels but at least early on there is no incentive to rack up tricky combos as all that matters is getting the required radness to pass the level, no matter how long it takes.  I guess, in the game's defense, this also means the player won't get rewarded for staying on a level and endlessly racking up points, letting the radness dip down a bit, and then scoring more points so as to run on a single level endlessly.  Do it quick and efficiently or take forever, it doesn't matter as long as you get the job done.

    3) No meaningful differences in the stages:  Sure the backgrounds change and the radness meter depletes quicker, but that's it.  Here I was thinking the different level pack would introduce new mechanics or subtle twists to the basic gameplay.  Once you've played through the game's tutorial level pack you've seen it all except that the later stages are more difficult.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neilvoss Neil Voss

      Hey Tim -

      Sorry you deletified Radballs right away. To speak to your concerns... on:

      (1) We are adding a bunch of achievements and leaderboards to this end. 

      (2) Combos feel a lot more meaningful when you play on harder difficulty levels (they become critical to survival). You get exponentially higher score for each step of a chain, and on harder difficulties you die much faster, so you need to make these (and ideally big ones) to keep afloat. And they jitter and process the music to the beat, more dramatically with each combo step. 

      Also, your overall score for a level (shown accumulating with each round) is calculated in a semi-complex way, taking into account the time you spent, the number of combos you made, the size of those combos, the number of groups you cleared, the size of the groups, etc. So, we could definitely try to communicate that better, but it does matter how you play, overall...

      (3) The stages at this point are mostly visually different, with a mild difficulty relationship. On higher levels you have to win at harder difficulties to unlock the theme. The visual aspect of some intentionally contributes to them being a little more difficult (blurry balls of light, dark radballs with hints of color, etc.). BUT we are also adding unique levels (in terms of gameplay). We just didn't want to launch with a game that wasn't concise (and we needed to focus our testing on the core game to get it in the best place we could). 

      We definitely appreciate the feedback (good or bad), as it helps us understand how to make the game better. Keep an eye out for the updates, and give it another shot ;)

      Also, if you'd like to see a gameplay vid on a harder difficulty level (depicting how scratching and making chains can become strategically useful) check out the vid here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Istd6-dWr8

      Thanks!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Lord-Gek-Jordan/1559737263 Tim Lord Gek Jordan

        I'm more than willing to give it another run once the updates are released (I didn't delete it from my iTunes library, afterall).

  • Wut

    This is a poor news story. I want facts, not opinions! I WANT NEWS!

    • Anonymous

      This isn't a news story or a press release, it's a review.

      • Wut
      • Anonymous

        So... you're a troll? And proud of it apparently. Do they have internet in prison?

      • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

        Pretty sure this was a reference to a comment in a different thread. I can't really keep up, though.

  • Anonymous

    At this point I'm convinced TA could hand out free money and people would complain one of the bills was folded a little.

  • Matt F

    Reminds me of a mix of Magnetic Billiards (graphics) and Async Corp... (gameplay)

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      The way the balls are combined reminded me a lot of Async Corp too, but the two games play very differently.

  • Gartliao

    my question is...when can i get my hands on the soundtrack?

    • Neil Voss

      Soundtrack coming. But for now, at $2.99 you can get the game AND rock the soundtrack at your next party ;)

  • imran sheikh

    My girlfriend and I love this game, only suggestion is perhaps a 2 player mode or a scratch attack as a huddle game. 
    Will there be suggested tracks/songs on a leader board like Audiosurf?
    Great game, can't recommend it enough.

    Cheers

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Radballs Reviewed by Sean Carey on . Rating: 4.5