Unstoppaball DX probably isn’t the best of games to play on the move. Evoking the abstract physics-based platform rolling of 1984 Atari hit Marble Madness — and to a lesser extent the more recent Super Monkey Ball series — it asks you to steer a ball through hazardous environments by tilting your device.
While it doesn’t have the depth of those forebears, it’s a fun, challenging, well-designed exercise in steady handedness and virtual rolling.
You take control of a ball. This ball rolls around according to the angle of tilt you’re holding your device at and the inclination of the virtual surface beneath it. You can change this ball for another, identical save for color and insides (the outside is transparent).
Make your ball your own.
Your goal is to collect fragments (of something unspecified), although there are also a number of stars scattered around the environment. To do this, you roll. Or more accurately, you tilt your device such that your ball rolls over the fragments without rolling into a spiky enemy or off the edge of the bizarre floating architecture.
There’s not much to it, conceptually, but you’ll have your hands full trying to keep that fragile ball from spilling over the side. It’s a game of precision, where sudden changes in input have equally-dramatic effects on output. Unstoppaball gives only as good as it gets, frustrating the impatient and reckless with wild flights of fancy and rewarding the meticulous with more manageably-measured changes.
The controls are spot on, with the ball realistically responding to a wide range of tilt angles and suffering moderate bouts of inertia. You need to sit up straight or stand to play effectively, or there’ll be times when you angle the screen outside your field of vision.
I found the buzz of rolling up, down, and around narrow pathways akin to the steady-hand science game of wire loop or Buzz Wire. The faster you go, the more exciting it feels — you’re living on the edge, and the tiniest mistake will destroy you.
Unstoppaball’s more forgiving, though, in that it doesn’t send you back to the start when you fail. You keep all your collected stars and fragments, and return to the previous checkpoint. Checkpoints, by the way, can be used repeatedly — if you choose to backtrack, you can roll over a prior checkpoint and make that the reset point for your next fall off the edge.
There are 30 levels in all, split into two distinct worlds — one akin to an aqueduct and the other more abstract and futuristic. Difficulty increases steadily throughout the game, with new mechanics — such as switches, boxes, and launchpads — introduced with intuitive level design rather than explicit tutorials.
Come fly with me.
Unstoppaball occasionally plays on your conceptual models about how the elements of a level fit together. This keeps the experience fresh, although it never reaches the level of Marble Madness’s M.C. Escher-esque madness or scale.
Levels are designed imaginatively with a sense of dynamism that ensures you always pay attention to the path of your ball. The best moments come when you must either take a leap of faith, unable to see your destination platform, or go spiralling up and down like a roller coaster.
What goes down must come up…wait, what?
Don’t Stop, But Stay Still
Unstoppaball DX is an easy game to get sucked into. The immediacy of its interactions — where a tilt directly translates to a roll in the same direction — grant it a vibrance and life that you wouldn’t expect to see in a play space so bereft of these things. And, thanks to excellent sound design and music, it makes you squirm every time your fragile ball rolls off the edge and shatters.
Just don’t try to play it on a moving bus or train — Unstoppaball DX is definitely one for the stationary gamer.