If humanity has given the world anything, it’s the ability to turn even the most mundane games into a sport. Rock/Paper/Scissors, the epitome of what you do when you can’t decide who gets to do something unsavoury, now has world championships. Not content with merely kicking a soccer ball into a net, folk now insert themselves into large ones and punt each other into the goal. There are literally leagues devoted to this. People push an iron out onto the ice while sweeping the perfect path to a bullseye – Olympic sport.
The latest endeavour in mundanity as professional sport is Ultra Hyperball by Springloaded Games. The goal is simple: bang what looks like a shuttlecock as high as you possibly can to reach a predetermined measurement in either an allotted time or a certain number of hits. Perhaps to better summarize the action, think of a deepening of the old “ding the bell” game you’d see at the fair and you’re not too far off the mark. The main game mechanic involved is jumping to hit said hyperball into the stratosphere, with the only nuance really being in how well you time your jump in order to get a “perfect” hit.
Surprisingly, Springloaded tries very, very hard to spread out what you can do with such a wafer thin premise, to varying degrees of success. There’s a goofy story mode about a boy named Jay who wants to become a professional Hyperball player late in the game (apparently 17 is retirement age for this excitable sport) come hell or high water. There’s a grid-like structure to unlocking levels and modes that push forth the mostly arbitrary plot while also giving you a little bit of a curve ball with each new set of stages. Not a literal curveball though; that thing still only goes up or down for the most part.
At first you just have to stand still and whack the ball in the air, but the game eventually adds in motion with limited success. For the type of precision the game requires, adding movement just feels too finicky. Ultra Hyperball likes to show players the ball flying in the air, but in order to do so the view changes; this adds unnecessary frustration as you are forced to make snap decisions based on unintuitive perspective changes. The game eventually tacks on motion control for movement, which makes it feel worse than it does with an analogue stick, and a dull touchscreen mode that also falls flat.
Ultra Hyperball doesn’t linger on any certain way to play for very long, which could be seen as a change of pace or a merciful respite, depending on your perspective. While the single-player story mode will hold your attention for a span with its unlockable characters and changes of control styles, the multiplayer is where the meat of the game lies. There are both competitive and cooperative options for one to four players that take the initial concept and adds extra players. While fun in small doses, it feels like it'd work better as a part of a larger party game; as it is our multiplayer buddies lost interest fairly quickly.
While the game play itself is decidedly mediocre, the presentation of Ultra Hyperball is rather nice. The sprite work is lovely, with cute squat characters (of which there are many to unlock) and a neat assortment of backgrounds with which to play. What’s sad is that it is both a wasted opportunity for this lot of memorable characters to be in such a ho-hum game, and the amount of folk that may pick this up because of its charm only to find it's a lackluster experience.
Ultra Hyperball presents itself as the sport of the future, but in reality it’s about as enthralling as a simple game of catch or kick the can. Springloaded pushed the boundaries of what you can do with hitting a ball really high, but that’s not saying a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. After a few matches you’ve a lot of what it has to offer and, even with the presence of multiplayer, it just isn’t engaging enough to keep anyone’s interest for very long. While there’s a place for simple pick-up-and-play games on the Switch, Ultra Hyperball is one that perhaps belongs on the sidelines.