Help the orbs help themselves in this charming match-three puzzle game.

While the casual gaming industry definitely isn’t lacking in match-three puzzle games, you’re more likely to run into titles with little to no originality than to find a game that tries to be different. In comes Striped Arts with a very interesting take on the match-three genre, a game called Ballville: The Beginning, that is one of the more charming offerings in the genre.

Ballville follows a ball, or orb, that simply goes by the name of “Captain.” Captain has been sent on a space mission that goes awry when his spaceship is struck down in a meteor field. Landing on a seemingly deserted planet, Captain decides that he can’t let his first mission be a failure, and you are to help him find his lost shipmates and build a wondrous new city using all of their skills and powers along the way.

 The Beginning

Gameplay is level-based, with each level containing a new or at least different shaped puzzle board than the level before. You’ll be tasked with clearing orbs from the board by making a match of three or more like-colored orbs. Most levels come with two basic blockades that must be removed before you can complete the level – orange squares that must have a match made on top of them for the orange background to go away, and empty crates that can only be destroyed by making a match to the left, right, above or below it.

There are dozens of levels to complete, each of which can take anywhere from 1-5 minutes or more, depending on how quickly you can spot new matches, or how lucky you are with their placement in hard to reach spots.

Since you’ll be making matches with the orbs themselves, the characters in Ballville‘s story, you’ll find that each variety of orb is unique, with its own strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities that work for particular circumstances. For instance, there are “Flier,” or chick orbs that will randomly switch places with a neighboring orb, while “Engineer” orbs will burrow their way to the bottom of the playing field, taking all orange or crate pieces with them, giving you a huge boost in progress. “DJ” orbs will “sing” and destroy random crates on the board, “Hint” orbs will show you a suggested move, and so on.

 The Beginning

There are 22 different kinds of orbs in all, but you will have to unlock the majority of them over time in order to use them. Every few levels, you’ll be met with a hidden object scene of sorts, that asks you to find a group of a new kind of orb. These orbs will be hiding, either behind objects in the scene, or off of the screen entirely, and must be brought in by activating a piece of machinery on the screen.

Once you have more than four or five different kinds of orbs at your disposal, you’ll be allowed to start customizing further levels before you enter them. You’ll be shown the level’s layout, along with any orange squares, crates, or pieces of machinery that must be removed therein (a task for the “Electric” variety of orbs), and you can then choose the handful of orb types that you would like to be present on the grid during that level. It’s in this that a true element of strategy is added to the game – an element that is normally missing in games of this type. This is only compacted by the fact that orb types will become tired after helping you in multiple levels in a row, so you’ll be forced to choose new orbs for a few levels in order to let them rest.

In between levels, you’ll be treated to a light version of a city-building game, as you build homes for new species of orbs, unlock crates (using coins collected in each level) to add decorations and so on. The story plays out in this “Ballville” proper, as Captain surveys his new land and discovers areas of interest or continues to search for his lost brethren.

All told, Ballville is a truly enjoyable experience. There are a few slight issues here, most notably the fact that orbs will fall diagonally after a match has been made, rather than vertically, which hinders any planning ahead you might have done, and the fact that some orbs’ special abilities can actually hurt your progress, rather than help it (Fliers, I’m looking at you), but the orbs themselves are so darn cute that it’s hard to hold them against the game for long. If you’re looking for a game with a lot of gameplay and even more charm, Ballville is a nice place to start.