Tuesday 2 August 2016

Smart Ball (SNES review)

Developer: Game Freak, System Sacom
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Released: 1992

Smart Ball is a platform game that was first released in Japan as Jerry Boy (1991).

You play as a Prince (turned jelly bean) and across eight levels your mission is to reverse the spell and rescue Princess Emi. The move-set is unique and includes the abilities to stick to walls, or even stretch yourself to kill enemies. There's also numerous power-ups including Jump (increases your vertical leap) and Lead (heavy ball you can throw as a projectile). The controls are decent but they're also slippery, meaning it's easy to overshoot platforms. Similar to Psycho Fox (1989, Master System) momentum is key to successfully leaping from one ledge to another so a run-up is always required. Where the game really shines is in the sheer number of options you have for attacking enemies, and the enjoyment (and replayability) comes from testing which weapon works best in certain scenarios. The level design is above average and I like how each level (and similarly each act) is substantially different; variety was clearly the developer's goal and they succeeded for the most part. Clever moments include having to stick to the side of a platform to avoid a moving barrier (that would otherwise throw you into a pit), and the underground tunnels where you need to navigate through a series of pipes. The best part is the truly inspired World 4 where the action takes place on the moon while you smoothly rotate around! The bosses don't pose much of a challenge but each is unique (especially the giant, mechanical fish!) and it's fun working out their attack patterns using different methods. Musically, the excellent mixture of energetic and sombre tracks remind me of Donkey Kong Country (1994, SNES).
Smart Ball is one of the most unique platformers I've played and while it does have some control issues it's still a fantastically diverse game. It gives you tons of freedom to experiment with both the weapons and environment and its playful style encourages you to return to its world for repeated play-throughs.
Random trivia: A sequel was planned for release on the Super Famicom in Japan but it was ultimately cancelled; a prototype ROM is now available online.

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