Ping 1.5+ is a puzzle game that’s all about aiming and shooting a tiny white cube at a circular orange target. Of course that’s easier said than done, as you’ll need to judge the right angle, bank the cube off walls, and avoid colliding with obstacles to reach the target within the indicated number of bounces and/or moves — all of this can be accomplished on the touchscreen or with classic controls (although we recommend the former). Don’t expect the proceedings to be all about planning, though; Ping 1.5+ takes a lot of trial and error and guesswork, which is ultimately what keeps the game from reaching its potential.
Aiming is as simple as putting the stylus to the touchscreen and dragging a line in the direction you want the cube to go, and however long that line is indicates the speed at which the cube will travel. Also, while the stylus is pressed to the screen the movement speed of everything will be slowed substantially, providing you with a little extra time to calculate your next shot and avoid any unnecessary bounces. Sometimes these mechanics work seamlessly with the level design and other times they don't feel at parity. Directing the cube through ultra tiny openings or navigating a field of moving pieces isn't just hard, it can be maddening.
Part of this frustration comes from the fact the 2.5D presentation can be deceiving, and shots that you thought were perfectly lined up collide in unexpected ways and venture from the intended course. These moments caused us to feel like we had very little control over the outcome of the stage, especially when we only had a single shot to work with. Basically, in these scenarios, you just shoot the cube and hope for the best. There's too much luck and waiting involved, and moments like this make the others where the player is in control shine that much more. If the developer decides to pursue this concept further in the future, we'd love to see a strictly 2D view to ensure the conditions are ideal for the player.
While some stages will allow for one shot but dozens of bounces, others grant multiple shots and a smaller number of bounces. In the latter instance you'll need to make speedy decisions to change the trajectory before the cube connects with a wall, and this can make for frantic fun or a muddled mess depending on the stage design. Attempting to navigate fields of moving objects and line up consecutive shots within all of that commotion can be a clumsy exercise. When the stage design is simplified, providing room to breathe between moves, is when we began to appreciate the core fundamentals and the overall concept. Sadly, the difficulty curve doesn't gradually increase as much as it jumps all over the place. Don't expect to be eased into new ideas and mechanics in an accommodating sequence; instead, possibly for the sake of variety, Ping 1.5+ does what it feels like and doesn't seem concerned with giving the player the time and scenarios to teach them the ins-and-outs of its design.
While the visuals walk a fine line between artistic and unattractive, on most occasions they at least do a serviceable job. There are many trippy cosmic-themed settings that serve as the backdrop to the action, and there are even stages that pay tribute to popular games, both new and old. Pong, Minecraft, Space Invaders, and the original Super Mario Bros are all games that will catch the attention of players, and learning which homage will surface next was part of the reason we felt compelled to overcome the most frustrating moments. Boss stages also serve to put a fun twist on the established mechanics, and they often feel as a reward of sorts.
As we progressed through all the stages on offer and approached each new challenge with a positive mind, we constantly felt reminded that Ping 1.5+ could be more. The moments when you complete a complex and challenging stage can be met with a massive sigh of relief, but it’s rare that we felt it was our efforts that led to success. There are so many variables at play in most scenarios that finally reaching that orange orb of solace feels too much like a lucky break as opposed to an achievement for which you hold most responsibility. When we struggled to complete a stage after goodness knows how many attempts, the frustration made it tough to want to keep going.
Ping 1.5+ is a very hit and miss experience, but at least it's a noble one. There's a refreshing dose of creativity here, and it's clear that the developer cared about crafting intelligent and varying scenarios, but regrettably it's an experiment that tries too many different things without truly mastering any of them. With 12 worlds — each comprised of 8 stages and a boss battle — there's a lot of content packed in for the price tag, and there are fantastic moments here and there that show signs of brilliance. The problem is that the intense difficulty (which isn't always challenging for the right reasons) halts progression on occasion, and those lacking the combination of patience, luck, and skill needed to advance might not get the most out of their purchase.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Ping 1.5+, however, is visualizing the potential of a sequel that realizes the strengths at play here, cuts the fat, and offers a more consistent flow and a more gradual difficulty curve. With those changes and upgraded visuals, we reckon the eShop would have a truly special indie puzzler on its hands.