Apr 7, 2011

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Review: BallFallDown Deluxe

BallFallDown is almost as silly as its name implies.  It’s more of a toy than a game, really.  Think of it like a virtual construction set, and you start to have an idea of what to expect.  If you were ever one of those people who wanted to build the most amazing marble run you’ve ever seen, then this is definitely an app you will enjoy.  BallFallDown gives you a set of basic tools, a blank canvas, and sets you out to create whatever your mind can imagine.

After a brief video introduction and a sample, pre-designed marble run, the game leaves you to your own devices.  You have a rather limited (but flexible) toolset, including several types of balls (such as marbles, tennis balls, soccer balls, etc.), a wooden stick, a tube, pinball flippers, pinball bumpers, tools that spit out balls continuously, and other odds and ends.  This may seem like a small set of building tools, but several of these can be customized.  For example, the wooden stick can be stretched to any size and turned at any angle, so if you use these in combinations, you can create quite a wide assortment of foundations for your marble run.

Holding the iPad in the  horizontal position, you can pick from your tools at the top with a touch, and start building.  If you accidentally pick something you didn’t mean to, or you change your mind, you can drag it to the trash.  You can zoom in with the pinch, then use two fingers to pull and stretch items like the stick to different sizes, then rotate it.  Once you have the item sized and angled, for example, you can drag it where you want on the screen.  It’s easy as that.  Personally, I had a terrible time with the controls, especially with re-sizing and angling the wooden sticks.  I found it wouldn’t recognize my inputs at all unless I used my index and ring finger, which was uncomfortable and unnatural.  I also had trouble with the game zooming in when I wanted to re-size or change the angle. I had so many issues that it made the experience very frustrating for me.  However, I think there is something wrong with me, because others who tried the app didn’t have the same issues.

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Once you have your pieces in place, you can hit the play button to set things in motion.  You can do this at any time (and switch back to a static view also) to check the progress of your creation.  You can even make changes while in active mode to see how moving things around affects your creation.  This is a nice feature, because the app does have fairly realistic physics, so sometimes you think you have everything set up just right, only to discover (once you’ve set things in motion), your design wasn’t as foolproof as you thought.  Once you’ve mastered your design you can save it, and the game keeps a log of all your creations so you can boot them back up to enjoy (or tinker with some more).

You can also change the background for your creation from several options, and adjust the sound effects and music.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the background tune, I did find it grating after a while.  Thankfully, you have the option to turn off just the music, just the sound effects, or both, as well as use the slider to adjust the volume of each.

Let me be honest: BallFallDown is not the type of thing I would normally be attracted to.  While I did enjoy playing with LEGOS as a kid, I was more of the type to hurry and build (according to the instructions), and then spend the rest of my time crafting intricate stories for my little LEGO people, rather than building at a whim.  I’m a writer, not an engineer, at heart, and so I will admit that BallFallDown only got the weakest effort from me.  To make up for this, I asked my husband, who is an engineer, to play with the app for a while and give me his impressions, since he is much more of the type of person to truly enjoy this type of thing.

While my husband doesn’t play many video games, he did see BallFallDown as a good time waster, as he definitely sat tinkering with it longer than he expected. His creations were also far more intricate than my pitiful examples.  Though I had a lot of trouble with the controls, he had no problems at all, and seemed a bit baffled that I had been so frustrated with them.  He admitted he could definitely see how people would enjoy tinkering with this from time to time, and it’s also something kids would probably have fun with, so it really is an “all ages” type of app.  I know some people have called it a “21st century Executive Toy,” and I could definitely see adults, as well as children, enjoying this app.

The biggest disappointment (other than the fact that you can only play in landscape mode, which means the toolset obscures part of the field) is the fact that as of this version, there is no way to share your creations with others, even friends.  A game like this cries out for creations to be shared, and the fact that this isn’t available at all is a bit disappointing.  It also would have been nice to have a few more tools to play with, but it’s very possible that these issues may be fixed in future updates.

When it comes down to it, BallFallDown is one of those apps you will either instantly love and find yourself sinking hours into your creations, or you will shrug your shoulders and go elsewhere.  Either the concept appeals to you, or it doesn’t.  If you’re not sure, you can try the free version first (simply titled BallFallDown without “deluxe”).  As it stands, it is a fun diversion if you enjoy building that will hopefully be expanded with more options and features in the future.

BallFallDown Deluxe
Platform: iPad (iOS 3.2+)
Genre: Construction
Release Date: 2/14/2011
Developer: FlatPack Interactive
Publisher: FlatPack Interactive
ESRB Rating: 4+
MSRP: $2.99


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About Rebecca Quintana

Currently playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I've fallen in love with twitter; follow me if you're interested in some good game-, writing-, or book-related conversation: @rrquinta.