Some people consider video games to be art, but there are also games that let gamers make art. Titles like Mario Paint (and the more app-like Art Academy titles) allow you to create straight-up paintings, while WarioWare DIY gives players the tools to create their own microgames.
Skunk Software's Free Balling tries to join the art game genre by letting players design their own tracks for balls to race along. Let's see if it's worth mentioning in the same breath as Mario Paint.
Being art-minded, Free Balling is hardly a game; it's better classified as a tool. You're greeted with a blank canvas on which to assemble your track. The tools of the trade here are two pencils, coloured blue and red, which you use to draw lines. Once you're ready you tap a green flag to enter ball mode, where you can send new balls onto the track via the hole in the center of the board.
One of the bullet points on this game's eShop page is the ability to freeze time once you've sent at least one ball onto the track. Tapping the white pause flag will pause the action and allow you to edit your track in any way you see fit. Thus, if a ball goes careening off the edge, you can rescue it with a quick edit.
Aside from the pencil tools, you're given an eraser to remove any lines you no longer want, and can zoom in or out if you want a better view to create a grander track.
The backgrounds can be swapped — they're all pictures of the sky and clouds, and have no effect on the gameplay at all. There are also four music tracks to switch between, one of them being a seemingly licensed track with vocals. It doesn't feel like it belongs at all, so you'll want to either switch to one of the other three tracks (which are acceptable but repetitive) or mute the game entirely and listen to something else. No audio emits from the GamePad, for some reason.
The poor audio is only the beginning of this game's problems. First, you're likely to notice that like other Skunk Software games, everything looks awful. The toolbar icons at the top of the screen are of a low quality, the ball hole looks out of place against the background, and the lines you draw are simplistic and with little texture. When you freeze the action, scattered blue lines that look like they came from a kindergartner's colouring book page appear on the edges of the screen.
Though the game gives you two colours of lines to choose from, we honestly aren't sure what the difference is between them (if any). It seems that the red line accelerates the ball more quickly than blue, but we might be imagining that. The game certainly doesn't give you any clues on how anything works.
Another huge problem here is the control. Like other Skunk titles, the controls are button-averse, so everything is handled via the touch screen. You'd think that care would be taken to ensure that this method worked properly, but on several occasions we had to tap lines multiple times in order to remove them with the eraser. The reliance on the touchscreen is an even more noticeable problem when using the scrolling tool. To use it, you tap a spot to scroll the screen in that direction, but it's wildly inconsistent.
Moving down and left is fairly speedy, but moving right occurs at barely half that speed and requires touching a precise spot right at the edge of the screen. Moving up is even worse, as the upper edge of the screen is mostly obscured by the toolbar. Thus, trying to simply navigate around is a chore. You'd think an important aspect like this would be handled better, and it's unfathomable why this wasn't implemented with a control stick.
Getting past all this, the core mechanic of the game — the physics — feels quite wonky. There's no pattern to how the balls react to different slopes; we dropped a ball right into a U-shaped curve and it flew right up the side wall. Balls frequently fly off ramps further than you think they're going to. Designing a full track, only to have the first hop ruined by poor physics, makes trying to implement a course a waste of time.
After a few minutes you find that there's really no point to Free Balling. If the ball drops towards the bottom of the screen, it just hangs in freefall since the backgrounds don't scroll. There are browser-based games of this exact type that are actually superior. To top it all off, there's no way to save anything you create. Thus, if you quit and decide to actually play the game again, you'll be starting from a blank slate.
Free Balling's core gameplay is so thin and so poorly implemented that we can't imagine a target audience for it, especially at its launch price. Any fun that would be had watching balls shoot around the track and setting up neat courses is ruined by slow, uneven controls and wildly inconsistent physics. With no goals in sight and no polish to speak of, it's only a matter of minutes before you'll grow bored of this title. If you're hankering for a game of this type, we'd recommend you try a Google search and avoid Free Balling.