Sonic Speed Ball Review
The days are getting shorter, shadows are getting longer. Dwindling are the days of carefree backyard summer games. But if you’ve got an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can have that same kind of fun indoors with Sonic Speed Ball, a tennis/badminton game with an invisible, virtual ball you can play anywhere. Yes, it really does work, but you’ll want to bring a friend along.
Using sound as the virtual ball, the goal is the same as tennis. After someone serves, the sound is passed to the second iPhone. Using a forehand, backhand or overhead smash, you wait until just the right time to return the “ball” to your opponent. Time your swing just right, and the ball will be a super-tricky shot to return. (There is a rudimentary graphic on the screen you can peek at to see how close the ball is getting, but the sound is definitely accurate enough.) The first player to score seven points wins. The game keeps track of your wins and losses in the “locker room” section of the title screen.
Sonic Speed Ball allows for three overall speeds, depending upon how frenetic a match you want to play. Novice is pretty relaxing, but Pro can give you quite a workout. In the game, there are three possible speeds which can be discerned by both their pitch and how quickly the volume increases. It takes some getting used to, but after a few points you’ll definitely get the hang of it.
The control is extremely accurate. Using the different strokes actually changes the way the ball is returned. A slow underhand will result in a lob that is hard to time just right, while a hard overhead smash will send the ball flying back in a hurry.
The game uses a Bluetooth connection to make matches happen (so make sure your device is charged) and it’s very responsive. Because of the nature of Bluetooth, you can stand up to about 30 feet apart. It’s really fun when you can’t even see your opponent. I played with my wife in the living room, me in the kitchen behind a closed door, and it really helped to build the suspense for what kind of shot I would have to return.
Bluetooth, however, is also a bit of a downfall. Before each game, there is a very long load time, followed by having to pair the devices for each and every game. There’s no way to immediately have a rematch; the game kicks you to the title screen and you have to go through the set-up procedure all over again. And with no way to change how many points it takes to win a game, seven point games are over far too quickly.
In the end, grading Sonic Speed Ball is like grading a badminton set. There are no achievements, unlockables or alternative sounds. What you see is what you get. And just like real tennis or badminton, you really need a second player who’s bought the game for it to be a worthwhile experience. There is a one-player mode where you play against a virtual “opponent” but whether it misses or returns your volley is fairly arbitrary. It’s kind of like hitting a ball against a wall, only sometimes the wall can miss.
And finally, for the love of all things expensive, do not play this game using an iPad. Despite the description saying that Sonic Speed Ball is iPad compatible (as all iPhone games are), it’s basically like trying to fan the air using a very shiny coffee table book. Just don’t bother. You’ll look silly, and likely drop your iPad. Using an iPhone or iPod Touch in your hand is much more comfortable and easier to control.
Sonic Speed Ball is a really great multiplayer title. I couldn’t believe how well the concept worked. Games were really fun and exciting. Admittedly, the lack of options or extras is a bit of a drag, but the core experience of what’s there is very intriguing, and a real blast to play. This is the first time I’m making a direct plea to the developers: If an update comes that allows instant rematches and the ability to play longer games, watch for our score to rise in the future.