There’s something so utterly charming about a throwback like Road to Ballhalla: a game that exists as not just a flashback to other video games but also to one of the oldest forms of gaming I’ve ever experienced.
You see, when I was growing up we used to visit my grandparents’ house. There I would often struggle with a wooden contraption that you played simply by moving it back and forth in your hands. It consisted of many intricately carved and labyrinthine wooden pathways, as well as some trap doors and holes that the steel ball you were manipulating might fall through.
Was is frustratingly rudimentary? Of course, but it was also very satisfying, even if I could never once, in the endless hours I spent with the game, get the ball to the end of the course.
Road to Ballhalla taps into the same sort of innocent gaming you might recall from wacky, wooden contraptions like this, only with a touch more sadism. Taking inspiration from Dark Souls most likely, Ballhalla offers plenty of hints in, on and around the course of each stage, with many of them being outright false.
The game then takes joy in chiding you sardonically for following its clearly flawed advice, or feigns ignorance that the advice was a trap to begin with. It’s a fun addition to what could easily be a more technical and humorless experience, and it helps to keep things fresh when you’re struggling with a particularly difficult section.
And struggle you absolutely will. Even if you’re just seeking to get through the game, Road to Ballhalla will take a lot of patience, fortitude and outside-the-box thinking in order to reach those end credits. Completionists, on the other hand, truly have their work cut out for them.
While the standard versions of each level contain collectibles and a limit to how many deaths you can have in order to gain all 8 tokens, finishing each of the four hubs will unlock bonus levels, speed-run modes, and even a scavenger hunt for the truly devoted.
Even without digging into the additional content, however, Road to Ballhalla is no slouch when it comes to variety in each of its 20 main levels: there are invisible walkways (or roll-ways rather), giant rolling boulder balls, homing lasers, projectile attacks to dodge, and a whole host of other obstacles to keep you on your toes as you make your way through the game.
All of this madness is set to a catchy electronic soundtrack which actually jives with the way the obstacles and pulsating lights of each stage interact and threaten (or help) the player to progress. This is a nifty addition which, like the floor texts, helps to set the game apart from other puzzle-platformers, offering Road to Ballhalla its own distinct look and feel.
On that note, players can also decorate and customize the look of their individual sphere, a welcome addition which allows the player to make their ball unique.
In the end, though, whether Road to Ballhalla is for you or not is largely dependent on how much punishment you can take. How competitive you are and how much of a completionist you are will also play into how much the value holds for each individual gamer.
For this particular gamer, however, Road to Ballhalla stands as a fun, frenzied and likable little throwback to the dozens of hours I spent as a boy, mucking around with a steel ball in a small wooden box.