When it came to creating original games, the Aztecs had everyone beat hands-down. They invented a game called ulama which was one of the first to use a rubber ball. It also gave players quite an incentive to win; losers were decapitated.
Here the penalty for losing Aztec Ball isn’t quite so severe. But it sure could have used a stronger incentive to keep gamers playing after the first few levels. For while the game seems like a hoot for the first hour or so, it becomes old much too fast.
Fans of the classic Arkanoid and BreakOut games will recognize the genre immediately: the goal is to aim a ball at targets and, when it rebounds, send it back from where it came in order to hit additional targets.
Aztec Ball has a lot more going for it than just returning bouncing balls. First, it’s set high atop a 3-D Aztec pyramid in the middle of a gorgeous rain forest. Our hero, an Aztec warrior, begins each level by facing a structure that grows larger and more complex as the levels progress. With just a rubber ball in hand, he needs to try and knock down the structure completely. If he’s clever, he might aim for the supporting blocks first, which can cause the upper blocks to sway back and forth until they come crashing down like a house of cards. The game’s physics are superb; everything reacts to force and gravity just as they would in real life.
And that, my fellow Aztecs, is really the appeal of the game. Ask any youngster which is more fun… building a city with blocks or being allowed to knock it all down. That moment of destruction is, of course, the best part. It’s the best part of Aztec Ball, absolutely.
A nice little touch is that you can kick one ball while holding and tossing another at the same time. To keep things interesting, there’s an assortment of 18 different kinds of balls, some slow, some speedy, some timed, and some, well, we still can’t figure out what some of them do even though they all have names (Shield ball? Universal ball? Through ball?). Nor could we decipher what all the eight types of bricks do.
Therein lies the problem. Call us a dunderhead, but while there appears to be many choices here, it’s not particularly clear how they influence the game.
For instance, we’re told that it’s possible to change the angle of attack, but doing so doesn’t seem to affect gameplay. The in-game tips are good but the Help pages, while they list all the different types of balls and bricks, don’t actually say what each does. Nor do they reveal the difference between ‘challenge’ and ‘arcade’ modes which makes choosing which mode to play kind of moot.
Perhaps most disconcerting is that the difficulty level never seems to change. While the buildings requiring destruction grow larger, it only takes just a little longer to do so. With very little chance of our losing the game, we progressed from level to level to level until we said, okay, that’s enough, and ran for the exit.
Despite the negatives, Aztec Ball is really a delightful game to behold and to listen to. The South American rhythms — with flutes, drums, and xylophones — are a jazzy accompaniment to the superb 3-D graphics. Controlling the ball with your mouse is as easy as can be, which is symptomatic of the problem … that there’s really nothing too difficult or challenging here.
Bringing huge piles of stones crashing to the ground is fun at first–lots of fun–but, really, how many buildings can you knock down before it’s time to move on? Heck, if Aztec Ball had been created in Aztec times, believe us, heads may have rolled!