Will you want Konami's Balz 3d in your pocket?
When I saw Balz 3D a while ago at GDC it was still being referred to by its Japanese name Tamakoro 3D. Apparently Konami marketing didn't think the name would fly here in America. The new title, I have to say, is nothing short of genius. The marketing writes itself, doesn't it? A good title does not a good game make, but I'm happy to report that most gamers will enjoy playing Konami's Balz (3D). The game is flawed in some pretty deep ways, but is still fundamentally an enjoyable title.
Balz 3D is essentially a poor man's Super Monkey Ball. Gamers menuveur a ball through polygonal, 3D levels that feature ramps, moving platforms, and other obstacles. There's no time limit, but your best score for each of the game's 20 levels is recorded, so after you've cleared all 20 once you're then competing against your best previous effort. The lack of a time limit eliminates almost all urgency and difficulty from the experience. You can usually crawl your way through the levels at a snail's pace and clear them on your first try.
Whether it was intentional or not, and I have my doubts, the levels feature some pretty huge shortcuts, for the daring. One level in particular took me about four minutes to clear via the normal route, but when I replayed it, I saw that the goal was actually just below the starting area. I picked up some speed, made the jump, and managed to skip the entire level, clearing it in 11 seconds this time.
In addition to the occasionally clunky level design, the controls add a further layer of clunkiness. They're easy enough to pick up - the arrow keys move your ball in the corresponding direction, 1 rotates the camera, and 0, *, and # manage other camera controls. The problem is that this static digital input is not the best way to control the momentum of a ball rolling around in 3D space. Consider the very narrow sections you'll sometimes have to cross. By holding "up" on the phone your ball will move in a straight line - it's impossible to screw up. Other actions by comparison, such as changing directions on the fly or turning at anything other than a 90 degree angle, are extremely difficult.
I'm just not sure that mobile handsets are ready for a title like Balz 3D yet. The game itself doesn't look horrible, but it certainly isn't pleasing to the eye, either. Textures are distractingly low-res, the action isn't particularly smooth, and there are occasional bouts of extreme clipping, causing your ball to lose contact with the world around it.
All complaints aside, I still found myself charmed by this little title. Maybe it was the delightfully cheesy elevator/lounge background music options, or maybe it was just the game's title itself. For whatever reason I felt much more patience towards Balz 3D than other titles that have had similar shortcomings. It isn't a must-own, but for avid mobile gamers it's a worthy addition to a handset's library.
What's Hot: 20 levels that offer up a solid challenge
What's Not: Horrible 3D textures. Gameplay occasionally too frustrating