Fans of "brick breaking" arcade games popularized in the ’80s – such as Arkanoid and Breakout – might get a nostalgic kick out of Alawar’s new downloadable digital diversion. Magic Ball 4 is the latest in the publisher’s two million unit-selling series – and while it’s not too different than its predecessors, it proves to be a fun take on the classic formula.
First, the story. Oh yes, there is, um, a story with this ball-breaking game. As luck would have it, aliens have entered our dimension and kidnapped thousands of humans. Your job is to return them all to our world by touching them with the Magic Ball of Relativity. If your aim is good, you can advance through the various levels and bring everyone (and everything) back home.
The 3-D game is similar in spirit to the 2-D arcade hits: You must move a paddle from left to right to keep a ball from touching the ground, while also attempting to aim it towards bricks you want it to smash at the top of the screen. Except in Magic Ball 4, you’re breaking apart an animated scene that usually includes people, animals, foliage, buildings and so forth. Players will work their way through various parts of the world, such as a frozen Antarctica setting, a temple-laded Mayan civilization, African savannah, ancient Asian countries and even the depths of outer space.
Oddly, when you travel from one area to the next — which takes about 20 levels or so — the game doesn’t announce the switch (and no celebration, summary screen or cut-scene cinematic), which is a bit of a disappointment.
As is typical with the genre, power-ups also fall down the screen, offering a temporary positive or negative effect. Examples of helpful bonuses that let you clear the screen faster include canons, spiky balls that smash through everything and an alien ship that blasts objects for you. Negative items you shouldn’t pick up include a skull (lose a life), a champagne bottle ("drunken ball" that makes it roll crazily around the screen) and one that makes your paddle or ball smaller.
There are many entertaining power-ups, but it’s too bad they’re virtually the same as past Magic Ball games and you get them all right from the get-go instead of discovering new ones throughout the game.
New to this sequel, however, are up to 10 diamonds you can collect per level and one of three trophies (bronze, silver and gold) you can collect.
The game is certainly fun, easy to pick up (my 4 year-old is currently on level 87) and it looks great (including weather effects), but shortcomings include only one game mode and a right mouse-click option that is more of a hindrance than a help. With the latter, you can hold the right mouse button to rotate the 3-D screen a little but not only is there no practical reason to do so but it’s easy to press the button and shift the view accidentally.
But if you have a soft spot for these brick-breaking games, or for those in search of a game both kids and parents will enjoy, it’s easy to fall for Magic Ball 4‘s charm. While not perfect, it’s an enjoyable arcade game that’s difficult to put down. If you bought Magic Ball 3, however, it might be déjà vu for you, so be sure to download the try-before-you-buy demo first.