Rolling rolling rolling
Developer: Studio Monolith
Publisher: Studio Monolith
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed)
Available on: Steam
Polyball is one of only 3 early access games I own. I haven’t purchased them consciously, they were just parts of bundles that contained other games I was genuinely interested in. But Polyball immediately caught my eye in its particular bundle because of its charming art style, so I figured I’d give it a shot, even though I expected that it would still be somewhat unfinished.
This is incidentally the reason why I usually don’t buy or play early access games: I pay for an unfinished product that I get to play in an objectively worse condition than the actual release build. The other reason for not buying early is, obviously, that a final release build is far from guaranteed, as we’ve seen with a couple of abandoned games now, and the slew of early access titles who seem to stay in early access for years to come.
But enough ranting about the business model, you’re here to know if the game in its current state is any good. As the developer claims, Polyball is a rather simple ball rolling game in the vein of other classic ball rolling games, such as Super Monkey Ball. The objective in each level is to find the end goal while overcoming a variety of obstacles, and that’s basically it. You can also collect shards, which are used to customize your ball in a variety of cosmetic ways. But there are no micro-transactions to unlock this stuff, which is nice. But in the end, the game tracks your time, and gathering all the shards seems like it’d only increase your time spent in the level. This is only exacerbated by the fact that apparently there’s a trophy hidden in all the levels and I barely managed to find one, so there is a bit of a mixed message going on.
Like I mentioned above, the art style is what drew me into it at first, and throughout the game, the environments you get to play in really manage to create a sense of atmosphere. This is obviously helped by the wide variety of levels that are already accessible in this early access version, with promises of more on the way. The music underlines the general aesthetic as well, going for a lot of synthwave, which fits the general visual tone of the game quite nicely.
If there’s one thing I can criticize, it’s the controls. They’re not awful, but at times they seem a tad unresponsive. Given that you can also change your trajectory mid-air, you are allowed a lot of control over your sphere, however the jump mechanic needs some work in my estimation. The biggest problem I see with it is the fact that you can only jump when the ball is in contact with the ground on the bottom part of the ball. So say your ball is perched between two ledges on the left and right side, you can’t jump, because the bottom part of the ball isn’t touching anything. The same thing goes for certain very steep sections where you can do nothing but watch as your ball loses momentum and slides back down again. This was particularly infuriating in one of the levels where around 70% of the time I lacked momentum to clear that particular wall and couldn’t continue with the level because of that.
In addition to that, I feel that the tolerance between what counts as touching and not touching is exceptionally slim. Visually it could appear that the ball is touching the ground, but the physics calculation in the game actually tells you it isn’t, which is why at times the ball seems to completely ignore your input and refuses to jump. If I may be so bold as to suggest a fix for this, I’d say make the collision box slightly bigger than the ball to allow for some margin of error on behalf of the player. It can get quite frustrating after a while if it seems like you’re losing control of the ball for no apparent reason.
Other than that, I’d say definitely had fun playing this game, even though again, it is still in a somewhat unfinished state. The developer claims that the game will feature a bunch more levels upon release, as well as local multiplayer, and the game will be Steam Workshop enabled, which could benefit the longevity of the title. But even in the state it’s in, it’s a nice little title. The only thing I’m a bit dubious about is the price. $15 for a game about rolling around a ball seems like quite a lot to me. If you’re the competitive type and you want to see your name on the leaderboards, you’ll invest plenty of time into the game to justify the investment. But if you’re like me and you just want a bit of challenge without going crazy over shaving off a few more milliseconds, in its current state, you can expect around 4 hours of entertainment. If that’s good enough for you, go for it, it’s one of the very few titles I’d say deserves to be in early access because it’s in a playable and almost finished state and from the looks of it, all the mechanics are in place, so only a few levels and the multiplayer portion are still missing.