Bubble Ball offers a feel good story, but it’s hard not to notice its faults.
Maybe you’ve heard this kind of Cinderella story before: A Utah-based eighth grader named Robert Nay has created an app that, somehow, has become a sensation on the App Store. It’s even spending some time at the top of the free apps chart. If you’re looking for a review that echoes the feel-good story here… well, please don’t send me hate mail. Bubble Ball is okay, but its popularity seems spurred more by its maker than its contents.
Bubble Ball is another move-the-ball-to-the-goal physics game. You are given a set number of items to use, from basic shapes to power-ups that speed up the ball or reverse gravity. Shapes can be made of wood or metal. Wood pieces are affected by gravity (meaning they’ll have to sit on a solid platform) while metal pieces will stay where you put them. Shapes can also be rotated to help guide the ball past the goal. It’s a fun premise that’s easy to just pick up and play. There are 21 levels in total, all of them available off the bat.
Bubble Ball is presented very simply, with plain white backgrounds and monochromatic shapes. The most exciting graphical option available is to change the color of your ball. The sound is non-existent, with the exception of a sound effect for the ball bouncing and a loud horn flourish when the ball passes the finish line.
But Bubble Ball has a lot of weird little quirks and annoyances. For example, if you place a wooden piece inside a permanent floor then hit the start button to get things moving, it will behave very erratically, even changing the resulting behavior from one trial to the next without actually changing the pre-start position. The interface is a little hit-and-miss as well, with touch detection not always working when trying to select a piece to place on the level.
The physics in Bubble Ball are also uneven. While the physics do affect the ball’s bounce and trajectory, speed seems to be a little weird, with the ball failing to accelerate down large hills or continuing to roll across a straight line without the appearance of friction to slow it down.
The lack of sound hurts Bubble Ball more than you would think. Because of the plain white backgrounds and simple graphics, sound would go a long way to help with the immersion. Without any background music or the ability to keep your own collection playing, sessions of Bubble Ball lasting longer than five minutes tend to feel a bit bleak.
The package itself is also pretty lean. As mentioned, there are 21 levels, some of which are pretty fun and creative. But most of them can be beaten on the first try, and with no unlockables, achievements or even a scoring system, there is little reason to return.
The main victory Bubble Ball scores is demonstrating how open modern game development really is. That a child can create, submit and market an app speaks volumes to the depth that iPhone development has reached. We’ve seen huge, big-budget titles like Infinity Blade push the boundaries of mobile platform gaming. Yet on the same device, we have a game that some kid made in his bedroom. That kind of dichotomy is wonderful in this HD big corporate era.
And yes, that it was made by a child is also a neat facet to the game. The fact that it’s free has certainly propelled its download numbers into the stratosphere, allowing anyone to check out Bubble Ball as a historical curiosity. (Unfortunately, someone should have told young Master Nay that 2,000,000 times zero dollars is still zero dollars.)
So, as stated in the beginning, please don’t hold a grudge for the tone of this review. I’m not trying to say that I could have done this when I was in the eighth grade. I’m also not out to crush a child’s feelings should he ever read this. But with all the hundreds of thousands of apps in the App Store, Bubble Ball has to be looked at objectively. As such, it’s a fun middle-of-the-road free puzzler that will amuse you for about half an hour. What Bubble Ball represents, though, is much more than that. And for that, if you’re reading this review, Robert, you should be proud.