It’s easy to forget that not everyone who plays games came up through the pipeline of the 8-bit and 16-bit that have influenced so many platformers. As such, for an experienced gamer, it’s easy to dismiss Red Ball 4 as a super-simple platformer that’s extremely easy to dismiss. But framed in the context of a platformer for people just getting into gaming? Or who want an experience that’s not overly taxing, while still somewhat showcasing its cleverness? Red Ball 4 isn’t the least bit disappointing.
Admittedly, I haven’t played the past games in the Red Ball franchise, though I suppose I’m not missing out on much plot. Evil squares have turned the round world square, and have imprisoned the eponymous red ball’s friends (who are also red balls). Our spherical crimson protagonist must bop their way through 45 levels, rolling, jumping, activating switches, and moving objects around to get from point-A to point-B.
There’s just enough in the way of physics effects to be noticeable: Red Ball has momentum, and picking up speed is necessary to make some long jumps. Rolling objects will move continuously until they hit a wall, and this fact is used in multiple puzzles.
The game is generally on the rather easy side: there are a few moderately-difficult sections, but nothing that a little perseverance or basic thought can’t get past — especially for people well-versed in the tropes of the platforming genre. There are a few legitimately clever sections involving using the physics of rolling items to hit switches while navigating platforms above. It’s the kind of thing that shows that while this game is fundamentally basic, it’s far from a poorly-made game or for idiots. It’s more like “my first platformer.”
While I don’t know what the overlap between the Red Ball 4 audience and MFi gamepad owners is, there’s support for it in here, which I wouldn’t have even thought to try except on a “huh, I wonder if this would work” whim. The game feels wonderful with a controller. The touch controls do an admirable job as well, but this is a solid way to play the game.
While it only took me a couple of hours to beat the game, and with a gold star on each level, I did enjoy it for what it was: a platformer clearly meant for casual players and those who aren’t that familiar with the genre. It’s got a cute protagonist, and the game is never too dark. The physics elements are there, but never in an overly-complex way. There are infinite lives. The bosses require just enough thought that they may be challenging for a short bit, but they can be figured out. And getting a gold medal on each level just involves collecting all the stars, few of which are hidden in non-obvious locations, along with bopping all the enemies.
It’s all fairly straightforward, but with just enough cleverness and self-awareness to it that I can recommend this to anyone looking for an easy game, or something they can give their kids to play. It’s maybe not for the hardcore audience – but it’s not supposed to be.