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Monday, June 17, 2024

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Review: Steel Punk Ball (Steam)

It’s no secret that some casual games on Steam can’t really fail, because they excel at doing one seemingly simple gameplay mechanic and never stray far from their established formula. Steel Punk Ball (SPB) is just such a title. It’s not complex in any way but it didn’t require that in order to captivate me. The game just like Steamroll before it, managed to combine two aspects that I’m very fond of. Steampunk and a true classic, BRIO’s Labyrinth (involving marbles or metal balls). The dev team behind Steel Punk Ball is ExclexGame and I’m pleased by their Steam debut and so far only project on the platform.

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There isn’t a story to this title and it couldn’t fit one when considering its gameplay anyway. It’s all fairly straightforward. Not even a tutorial, discussing about the controls but if you have a keyboard (why wouldn’t you?), you’ll figure it out in a matter of seconds. The goal within each of Steel Punk Ball’s 30 levels, is to skillfully traverse the maze-like environments within a certain time frame. There are both obstacles and “power-ups” that spice things up, but we’ll focus on them in the gameplay section. Even without a narrative, your imagination can run wild as to why the stages and elements are obviously steampunk, yet the backgrounds feature a cybernetic look which resembles a huge circuit board. We’re in the Matrix, right? It’s just a glitch, move along now.

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Unity Engine – Personal Edition, properly credited as soon as you boot up the game. Steel Punk Ball may not include any graphical settings in its main menu, but at least it ran in my monitor’s native resolution from the start and I never experienced any bugs or crashes. The lack of vertical synchronization was noticed once the Steam Overlay reported a constant frame rate of over 300, yet surprisingly, there was no screen tearing at all. I guess that without sudden movement, it really doesn’t look like an issue. Couldn’t even force V-synch from the Nvidia Control Panel so there’s really nothing you can do but hope for a patch that will allow this crucial feature. Other than that, SPB looks great, from high quality textures to extra effects such as reflections and the obligatory steam. Wouldn’t be steampunk without it!

The soundtrack takes center stage here, since we couldn’t expect any voice acting and the miscellaneous sound effects made by the ball hitting surfaces and so on, don’t really stand out. But the OST was a nice mix of dubstep and a few other techno songs that seem to confirm our fears of cyberpunk being the underlying theme in Steel Punk Ball. Or not.

I hope you didn’t expect this to be a smooth ride from start to finish. What kind of adventure doesn’t showcase a few bumps along the road? You’ll be forgiven for thinking that SPB is gonna be a breeze, just after you’ve finished the first five levels or so. You’re in for a treat since the game doesn’t dish out its punishment all at once. By the time you’ll reach the 13th level (not a coincidence, I presume) it will become a norm to repeat stages either for a better time record or simply because the ball took too many hits. Yes, there is a hit point system in place. Getting from point A to B would have been an tedious affair, if not for an adequate challenge in the form of various traps.

From hydraulic arms to circular saw blades and even rockets, Steel Punk Ball will test out both your patience and quick reflexes. Don’t give up and strive to improve your time by cutting corners and not bumping into edges all the time. Speaking of which, the earlier mentioned bonuses come in the form of additional time added to the counter. Never miss those purple time crystals when rolling around. I compared the title with a previously reviewed one, Steamroll, because they feature a distinct gameplay mechanic that makes the difference between success and failure: physics-based animation.

More precisely, that cheeky sphere which is our “protagonist” in this case. The titular steel ball has shifting speeds and relies on momentum, to get past ramps and even well-coordinated traps. Take my advice, on some levels don’t stop and think, just go for it. Other stages may require some planning ahead and delays in your movement or approach angle. You’ll need to adapt but fortunately, trial & error shall allow you to overcome any difficulties. The keyboard controls worked flawlessly, so I could never blame “lag” for failing a particular level. After each success, you’re awarded with a star rating, from 1 to 3. You’ll need 50 stars to access level 21 and 80 stars in total, just to unlock the final 30th stage.

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There aren’t many things I’d like seeing either changed or enhanced in Steel Punk Ball. Some extra assets could never go wrong as well as a level editor. You can’t really argue with what it already offers but I firmly believe that such a title deserves both Cards and Achievements. It would almost be an injustice for so much Steam shovelware to posses these collector auxiliaries and a quality casual title such as SPB to skip them altogether. Please make it happen, ExclexGame.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.


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