Red Ball 4 offers an interesting combination of 2D platformer and physics puzzler that is instantly accessible. Unfortunately, its puzzles quickly become too tricky for the younger audience that is clearly aimed at.
On its surface Red Ball 4 shares a lot with traditional platform games. You guide the hero from left to right through the 2D world, bouncing off a variety of square enemies along the way. This isn't just Sonic the Hedgehog, however, because without corners or feet the crimson crusader is highly susceptible to the effects of gravity. This allows you to use the various slopes that fill each level to build momentum to make jumps that would otherwise be impossible.
This physics element does not simply prove an aid to platforming, with it also forming the basis of puzzles. These conundrums range from balancing on teetering see-saws to winding up spring loaded cogs to fling you through the world. Failing these problems regularly results in Red Ball's death, but a generous checkpoint system ensures you are never sent too far back. While these brainteasers are often more fiddly than fun, the action changes enough to ensure you never tire of a single task.
Fighting the laws of physics
If you have played any recent side-scrolling platformers then Red Ball 4’s touch controls should be instantly familiar. On screen buttons control the spherical star's movement, with left, right, and jump commands all conveniently placed under your thumbs.
While the controls are responsive, the physics model makes them seem sluggish at times. If you want to change direction after building up speed, then slowing to a stop and reversing feels like trying to pull an open umbrella out of a pool of treacle. Though this is an accurate interpretation of the momentum based movement, it proves jarring against the light-hearted presentation of the world.
You know, for kids
The 2D sprites of Red Ball 4 are striking in their simplicity. Every element of the world draws from a limited color palette giving it a cartoony look, but also robbing it of subtlety. This is most pronounced during the opening stages where the vivid green of the grass and foliage stand in stark contrast to the red ball.
While this design could be to target a younger audience, one fortunate upshot is that it keeps things nice and clear. No matter what screen size you are playing on, it is easy to identify items in the world. On the downside, this has the odd effect of abstracting the world into a collection of icons - crate, ball, see-saw, and enemy – causing you to completely overlook the effort that has been put into characters' expressions.
The visuals are not alone in creating a childish feel, with the audio and music also seemingly ripped straight from a TV show for toddlers. Again, this further exaggerates the disparity between gameplay and tone, though it could be a good starting point if you have a preschooler that you want to nudge towards a career in physics.
A different ball game
Red Ball 4 is a competent and fun title that fails to find its niche. With the physics based problems proving a little too complex for children - requiring forward planning and dexterity to solve - and the presentation too bland for older audiences, it is hard work out just who to recommend it to.