The brick-busting genre is one of gaming’s oldest chestnuts, and this time Strike Ball 3 is up. The third game in the series from Russian developer Owl Games, Strike Ball 3 builds upon its predecessors very well.
The original Strike Ball was a rudimentary 3D ball-breaker, but provided decent fun. The sequel, Strike Ball 2 was an enormous step up from the original that featured a slew of power-ups and great level design.
It must be said that compared to the step up from the original to the sequel, Strike Ball 3 is less revolutionary compared to Strike Ball 2. However, the changes are very important, and fundamentally alter the gameplay.
When booted up for the first time, check out all the graphics options. If you have a higher-end computer, you’ll be able to tweak all sorts of special effects like color depth and reflections. While these options are purely aesthetic, they really add a high level of polish and sparkle to the game. It’s a shame that a number of casual gamers’ rigs probably won’t be able to handle the upper-end graphics to see the game as it could be, but fear not: even on the lowest settings, Strike Ball 3 is still quite pretty.
But we’re not here to look at all the lovely scenery, right? It’s time to unleash some mammoth destruction!
The biggest addition to Strike Ball 3 is the PhysX engine, powered by nVidia. Basically, this means that if you knock a box over, the game will calculate exactly how it will tumble, roll or ricochet off other objects. Right off the bat, the advantages to adding this are obvious: Imagine a giant tower built of destructible bricks. You break its foundations. As the bricks fall, they sprawl all over the level, dynamically changing the playfield. Now add four balls each ricocheting off each other, and you can begin to imagine some of the chaotic joy in Strike Ball 3.
The level designs take great advantage of this physics engine, but that’s not the only ace up Strike Ball 3‘s sleeve. Items play a huge role in the game. There are helpful items, like bombs that explode all the scenery, or hindering items like ball speed-ups or paddle-shrinkers. But best of all, there are levels designed specifically around items. For instance, metal bricks cannot be destroyed by the standard ball. However, there is one machine that doles out homing missile power-ups. Start collecting those, and the metal blocks can be decimated, allowing your ball to go in and take care of business. Power-ups are also cumulative, so if you get a 2x power-up, then a 3x and fireball, suddenly there are six flaming spheres of annihilation at your control.
In a new feature for the series, these items are upgrable. Levels are littered with collectible stars. Between each of the 100 levels, you can buy upgrades for items with these starts, both for positive and negative items. An upgrade for a positive item could be more ammunition for a machine gun upgrade, or extra time for a protective energy barrier. An upgrade for a negative item lessens the item’s impact, like reducing the amount of time your ball’s trajectory goes nuts with the Crazy Ball item. After a few levels, the amount of control over your destruction goes up.
Speaking of control, Strike Ball 3 adds a new twist to your paddle in the form of a magnetic control. If you find that the ball is just not going where you want it to, you can press your left mouse button, and the paddle actively draws the ball towards it. It’s a great feature, and as the levels get more complex, it’s very helpful.
If there’s one aspect in which Strike Ball 3 falls, it’s the music. The level of excitement the music brings falls somewhere between an elevator and my dentist’s waiting room. There aren’t enough tracks for the length of this game, and the tracks that are there are a little too easy-going compared to the gameplay. Also, with such complicated physics and graphics engines at work, there is occasional slowdown during the game.
Overall, though, Strike Ball 3 is a great, dynamic ball-breaker that is definitely more than your average time-waster. It’s amazing that, after all these years, there are still new ways to move the genre ahead. The improvements from one Strike Ball game to the next have been fantastic. Sign me up for Strike Ball 4 on its release day!