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Bang-On Balls: Chronicles

Bang-On Balls: Chronicles

Written by Eric Hauter on 10/4/2023 for PC  
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There is no way I’m going to bury the lede on this one. Bang-On Balls is the best 3D platformer I’ve played since Banjo-Kazooie. Now, to be sure, I haven’t played every game of this sort that has been released over the last 25 years. I can say that most of them that I’ve tried, I’ve bounced right off of in the first few hours. But out of the ones that I did stick with – Crash, Yuka-Laylee, Super Lucky Tales, my beloved Hat in Time – I’ve had the most fun with Bang-On Balls. And I’ve been puzzling over why.

What exactly about this game has pulled me in to the point where I’m playing it instead of the AAA bangers that I’ve got sitting on various hard drives around my house waiting for review? Is it the lunatic sloppy bouncing combat? The incredibly detailed and secret-laden game worlds? The wild-ass boss fights? And then I realized.

It’s the voices. I keep getting called back to Bang-On Balls because – and many games and films try this and fail – it has the best goofball character voices this side of Minions. Each ball you encounter in the game (and there are thousands) has something to say, and it is all top-tier comedic gold. My absolute favorite can be found in the game’s first expansive world based on Viking lore. You - of course - come across a graveyard full of zombie balls, as one does as part of standard Viking exploration. The zombie balls kind of roll-stagger towards you, and they all start chanting “Zzzzombie- Zzzzombie-Zzzzombie!” in tiny little squeaky voices. It’s adorable and hysterical.

So yes, it’s got to be the voices. Or rather, the fact that the care that went into the voices extends outward into every aspect of this game. Bang-On Balls has been developed by Exit Plan, which was started by a couple of CD Projekt Red expatriates. These folks have brought all of the attention to detail to Bang-On Balls that one might expect from those with their pedigree. Frankly, it’s tough to believe that this is an indie game.

Everything about Bang-On Balls screams AAA production values. Every part of this game is a visual feast, with fantastic and fun details around in every nook and cranny. These are some of the most dense and rich video game worlds I can remember exploring. The music, the visuals, the complete lack of bugs; the entire game is high-end and clean.

I wouldn’t say that Bang-On Balls has a story per se, but it does have a very solid concept. Players take the form of an extremely customizable ball. The central hub world is a movie lot (which itself is full of mystery and secrets), and each soundstage on the lot serves as a portal to one of the enormous worlds. Though they aren’t all unlocked at the game’s beginning, a determined player could probably get them all unlocked in a few hours.

But speed-running through Bang-On Balls would be doing both the player and the game a serious disservice. Each of the worlds has very distinct goals that must be achieved to unlock that world’s boss character, and while those goals are interesting and fun, they mostly exist to force the player to explore the massive maps Exit Plan has created. It’s in exploration and discovery that the pleasures of Bang-On Balls lie.

For example, the third world is pirate themed. The map consists of huge swaths of ocean dotted with a ring of islands, all hidden beneath a fog of war. To beat the world, players must visit five of the islands and beat various sub-bosses, then take the coins they earned doing so to a central area to unlock a final boss. But the hook is that each of these islands is its own rich level to explore, with puzzles, secrets, and collectables everywhere. Sure, you could cruise through each island in a few minutes, but if you are anything like me, you’ll want to spend at least an hour on each, combing through the jungles and towns for surprises and goodies.  Then there are the several islands that aren’t required. And what’s that weird area in the middle of the sea with mermaids standing around? This is one of those games where a trap door could lead to a secret basement, which in turn could lead to a dungeon, which might gain you a new power you might have otherwise never received.

The titular balls have a variety of standard platformer-y ways to interact with the game world, which all feel great and intuitive. You have your double jump, a dash that doubles as an attack, and a butt-slam. As you play, you’ll discover ten wardrobes worth of various outfits to customize your ball, including a variety of weapons that can add elemental properties to your attacks. Combat is simple and frantic, usually involving you throwing yourself at anything that moves. It’s immensely satisfying to send enemy balls bouncing into each other or careening off cliffs.

The physics model here is superb, keeping track of a massive number of enemies while they are bouncing all over the place. At one point, I knocked a dude into a river, and then spent a few minutes seeing how far upriver I could propel him by whacking into him underwater. Pretty far, it turned out, until I accidentally killed him. Sorry, buddy.

Bang-On Balls can also be played multiplayer, with players able to plop into games with randoms or friends. Multiplayer is fun, but not necessary to enjoy the game. I will say that when we attempted this, Games N Moorer’s Joseph Moorer and I – both of whom I would consider to be pretty experienced gamers – had a heck of a time trying to get it to work. We eventually succeeded and had a pretty good time bouncing around together, but I don’t know if I was able to effectively communicate how amazing this game is in a way that cut through his frustration at the multiplayer implementation. Of course, this could all be early access/pre-release issues, but it was worth noting.

Bang-On Balls is currently retailing for $24.99 on Steam, and it’s far better than many games I’ve played that cost more than double that amount. The worlds contained in Bang-On Balls are complete and amazing, and a new Wild West-themed world is on its way soon as a free add-on to all players. With the size and depth of the game already overwhelming and great, it’s wild that Bang-On Balls is going to continue to expand after release.

If you enjoy fun, if you enjoy laughter, if you like to smile, buy Bang-On Balls. This game sets a new benchmark for uniqueness, clever design, and general good vibes. I frankly can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m so glad I played it.

Bang-On Balls gets our highest recommendation, with no caveats. The worlds are huge, the game is beautiful, the action is fun, the secrets are deep. With a ton of interesting activities, intriguing puzzles, and cool stuff to collect, Bang-On Balls feels like developer Exit Plan threw in everything, including the kitchen sink. This is new benchmark for action-exploration-bouncing-combat-platformer games. 

Rating: 10 Perfect

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS VR2, Quest 3, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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