Radballs is the kind of video game Helvetica might play while listening to French Electro on headphones at the back of a graphic design class. But its too-cool-for-school New York aesthetic isn’t off-putting so much as inspirational, and the fact that it clothes a smart, tactile music puzzle game only makes it all the more alluring.
It has a fine pedigree too, with a soundtrack composed by Commodore 64 producer Neil Voss (who incidentally worked on Nintendo 64 curio Tetrisphere). The game mechanics themselves, meanwhile, draw inspiration from titles as diverse as Capcom’s Super Puzzle Fighter through to perhaps its closest influence, Tetsuya Mizugichi’s Lumines.
It seems churlish to describe the game as a match-4 puzzler, but in essence your task is to flick and switch coloured balls around a gulley in order to create larger clusters. However, rather than disappearing when you create a square or rectangle of like-coloured circles, in Radballs the orbs form a single globulous mass which can be added to with other orbs.
Meanwhile, a wave moves down the screen in time with the music. When this line touches any matched gems, they disappear, adding ‘Radness’ to your meter as they do. The larger the mass of balls, the greater the amount of Radness you collect. With elegant simplicity, the game is lost when your Radness bar fully depletes and won when it fully fills.
What adds an additional innovative layer to the Lumines-style gameplay is the ability to grab the wave with your finger as it passes over the balls and scratch it up and down to charge up additional bonus Radness. Flicking the wave back up the screen will even buy you a little more time to add to your giant Radball mass, and the way that the sound effects link with the music as you do this allows you to feel a little like a DJ, manipulating the soundtrack in real time.
Speaking of which, Voss has remixed a number of classic tunes in his electro style , including tracks from OK Go and others. But the game will also draw tracks from your own music library allowing you to tailor the style to your own preference. It’s a slick, stylish game – the kind of visually on-trend title that could only have been produced by a New York design consultancy, but which you perhaps wouldn’t expect to play with such vintage assuredness from a developer with relatively little experience.
All of this combines to make Radballs a Hookshot Inc. Must Have.