Last year, Virtual Toys brought Spaceball: Revolution to the Wii Shop, an arcade-style puzzle game that had you firing at a grid to copy patterns. Now that it's hit the DSi Shop, this puzzler has brought the same unique experience to a handheld system.
Challenge Mode is where you’ll find the meat of the game, and you'll find yourself looking down a glowing corridor of sorts toward a grid at the end. A pattern of lit squares appear on the top screen along with a time gauge, level progress and your score. Tap the touchscreen to fire an energy ball down the corridor toward the grid. If an unlit square is hit, it will light up; if the square was already lit then it will go dark. The goal is to successfully match every pattern on the top screen.
You begin each level by shooting at the grid unimpeded, but the game gradually ramps up the difficulty by introducing obstacles. Whether it's square blocks moving randomly around the corridor, lines of electricity that zap your energy balls to smithereens, or other objects placed in your way, you'll soon find yourself hard-pressed to hit the right squares before time’s up. Don't worry, though — there are special moves available.
If you shoot the line between two squares, for instance, you'll light up both of them, and shooting the center point of a 2x2 square will light up all four cells. You may also bounce your shots off of the sides of the corridor in order to pass obstacles and light up blocked-off areas. Bouncing off the sides is tricky, but a necessary skill to build as your time gauge will fill faster and faster as you progress through the game, especially when the game begins to sabotage your efforts by shaking the camera, turning the grid and corridor around so that you have to re-do your work, and shooting extra spaceballs at the grid at random.
If you're unable to complete a pattern before the time gauge fills, your viewpoint will zoom out a little farther, making your shots that much more tricky; if your viewpoint zooms out four times, it's game over. Match ten patterns to complete a round; complete five rounds to pass a level and play a quick shoot-'em-all bonus round before moving on to the next. If you're playing on Easy, only the first five levels are available; Normal features the first ten, and Advanced will allow you to play through all fifteen.
As in the WiiWare version, the patterns themselves are somewhat like tetraminoes and cycle at random; none are terribly difficult to complete outside of the obstacles presented to you. However, they are repetitive by their very nature, and there is not a large amount of variety to be had mainly because the grid remains the same square shape no matter how it expands in latter portions of the game. The smaller play area means there will be many times you'll tap to fire, fully intending to hit the line between two cells in the grid, and you'll wind up hitting only one of the two. Part of the problem naturally lies with the player's own accuracy and hand-eye coordination, but you may want to calibrate your touchscreen beforehand just to completely rule that out as an issue. It's also hard to aim when you're attempting to bounce shots off of the sides — you get a general idea of where you need to tap on the walls in order to get a ball where it needs to be, but whether you'll light up one, two, or four cells with it is anyone's guess. Normally your energy balls will travel and bounce vertically or horizontally, though there are times your ball will bounce off of a wall at an angle, hitting another wall before finally making it to the grid below. The unpredictable trajectory may throw off your game at first, but practice will have you flinging energy balls around like a pro.
Should you lose while playing Challenge Mode, you'll be given the option to continue on with your score reset to zero, but if you choose to quit instead, your score will be saved for display under the Ranking option on the main menu. You may try again from the same level at which you were defeated by choosing the Continue option next time you begin Challenge mode, which makes getting through all the levels eventually a real possibility for even the most casual of players.
Once you've reached a level in Challenge Mode, it is also unlocked for play in Free Play, where you may play through it at any difficulty at any time (again, Master must be unlocked first). However, any high scores you manage to rack up in Free Play will not be recorded by the game; only Challenge scores count toward the Ranking list. With the online leaderboards and multiplayer stripped from this version of the game, you're down to playing to get through the game and beat your own scores. It would've been nice to see a level-by-level high score list implemented here so you would be able to see how you stack up against your prior sessions, as Free Play is otherwise perfect for short bursts of play whenever you like.
Though perhaps toned down a bit from those of the WiiWare version, the graphics here are top-notch. Moving obstacles are animated smoothly, as are details in the background: meteorites shooting past the end of the corridor, galaxies rotating off in the distance, and the title screen itself featuring a dizzying view of the star-strewn depths of outer space. Whenever your view shifts or the corridor rotates, the movements are fluid and natural, with no jerkiness. Your energy balls are also clear as day as they ricochet off of walls or meet an untimely end at the hands of an obstacle.
Consisting of a few different space-y techno tracks, the soundtrack fits the overall theme seamlessly, providing an upbeat aural backdrop for the fast-paced spaceball shooting action. Various bleeps and bloops accompany your every screen tap or button press, and a robotic-sounding voice announces every completed pattern as “complete” or “perfect” depending on how many energy balls you used to create it. The voice sounds somewhat creepy and is hard to make out at low volume, but overall, the sound effects combine with the visuals for a well-packaged game.
As with other score-based arcade puzzlers, portability is a major plus. Though the multiplayer aspect and online leaderboards have been stripped from this WiiWare-to-DSiWare port, Spaceball: Revolution still makes for a fun solo experience. Despite somewhat repetitive patterns and a bit of a learning curve in terms of figuring out how to dodge obstacles, the simple gameplay and easy-to-use controls have largely survived the transition from the big screen to the dual. If you're looking for a challenging yet unique puzzle experience, Spaceball: Revolution just might hit the spot.