The Perplexing Orb is a short, not particularly pretty game. Like many downloads we've reviewed it values gameplay over narrative or presentation; that's not a bad thing, but it isn't without flaws.
The concept of The Perplexing Orb is simple: take control of the titular orb and guide it through a series of puzzles to a goal, in this case a totem the ball must be rolled into. If it sounds similar to cult classics like Kororinpa or Super Monkey Ball, that's because it is. Unlike those games, however, The Perplexing Orb puts the player in direct control of the movement of the orb, rather than tilting the world itself to have an effect on the orb's direction. There's no support for motion controls or any of the Wii U's unique features, either; the GamePad screen mirrors what's available on the TV. The Perplexing Orb does, however, support the Wii U Pro controller in addition to the standard GamePad.
The levels crafted by TreeFall Studios are mostly straightforward affairs; the goal is often in sight of the stage's starting point with a direct path visible. The trick to these levels, of course, lies in the twists and turns required to get there. There are also cube-shaped artifacts littered about each stage, which one must collect to unlock more levels in the game's challenge mode. Most levels seemed a bit too easy for our tastes, and ranged from enjoyable to mundane. In each level the camera is fixed, which feels to us like a choice that limits stage design options; in a few stages the camera would be blocked by a structure or object that would introduce what seemed like unintentional difficulty.
Visually, The Perplexing Orb resembles a technical demo more than a finished product. The orb resembles a red rubber ball one might find on a playground, and the courses are made up of simple geometric shapes with low-resolution textures wrapped around them. Backgrounds also seem to be a single static, often pixelated, image. Lighting effects are there, and the orb casts a shadow, but it's not very impressive. Musically the game fares much better - the background tunes aren't memorable, but they're tolerable.
The Perplexing Orb's main mode — a sort-of story mode consisting of seven worlds, each containing a few puzzles apiece — is joined by a multiplayer mode and a challenge mode, both of which feel like missed opportunities. Challenge mode consists of just four stages, with each requiring more artifacts to unlock. After our first playthrough we had 300 of the 400 artifacts necessary to unlock all four challenge stages. The challenge stages rely mostly on balancing the orb on a series of increasingly narrow platforms rather than requiring any truly tricky movement. Unfortunately, the object of challenge mode is merely to beat these levels; the inclusion of a timer or leaderboards would do wonders here, along with an increased map selection. Each of the four challenge stages was a bit more difficult than most of the main game's offerings, but not by much; some of the main game's maps seemed more challenging to us than those offered in challenge mode.
Multiplayer is, unfortunately, a very bare-bones experience; it supports a maximum of two players, one using the GamePad while another uses the Pro controller. The two players must race to complete the objective, with two maps requiring that players find a randomly placed treasure chest before knocking over the goal totem, with the other two eschewing the chest and requiring a straight race to the totem. The limited map selection and short matches lead to this feeling like a last minute addition rather than a thoughtful inclusion.
The Perplexing Orb is an interesting concept, but it doesn't feel like a finished product. While what's there can bring brief moments of enjoyment, a typical playthrough should only last an hour at best, and there is no real incentive to return after that point. A short story mode, borderline useless multiplayer and a challenge mode that's far too easy make this one hard to recommend. If you truly miss this type of game it may be for you, but the vast majority of players will be better served saving their hard-earned cash.