Ultra Hyperball by Springloaded takes all the action of head-butting a small ball and sends it to the moon. Think California Games’ hacky sack set in a futuristic Japanese world with protective headgear and you’ll have the idea of this quirky multi-player fun.
Poor old Jay has become unsatisfied with his lot in life: working in his parent’s Ramen bar is just not where he expected to be. And at the grand old age of 17, he decides to pack it all in and follow his dream of becoming an Elite athlete in the Federation’s Hyperball League. We’ve all been there! After putting a bit of practise in front of his family’s restaurant, he heads off with only a small ball and an American Football helmet to seek his fame, fortune and realise his destiny…
You take on the role of Jay and his friends, practising head-butting those balls, adorned with ribbons which make them resemble bizzarely pixelated birds, higher and higher until they reach the moon! Each game only lasts a couple of minutes at most and every scenario is based around keeping the Hyperball in the air for a set amount of time, number of hits or to gain a certain height. The fun is increased with arcade style rankings which award gold, silver and bronze medals to celebrate your increasing skill at Ultra Hyperball. As you gain new medals, you unlock new stages and an increasingly eclectic collection skins that’ll allow you to escape from the monotony of being Jay, a challenge he’s been trying to achieve for years.
You can’t choose what controls you use as they are dictated by the game mode and vary according to the task you are given. However they are usually incredibly simple, relying on a single button to jump and either tilting the Joycon or using the analogue stick to move left or right. You have to time your jump to hit the ball at the optimum point to send it soaring higher into the air. This is infuriatingly tricky at first and you end up seeing the ‘game over’ screen frequently until you master the crucial timing, progressing from ‘poor’ through to ‘great’ and then ‘prefect’, supported by colour coded arrows above your character. Once you’ve got the timing, your only challenge is to make sure you are underneath the ball as it falls. The tilt controls feel more like you’re sliding on ice, bringing back memories of Winter Olympics 1998 on the SNES and in Team mode, the only mode that uses touch controls, I found the touch screen unresponsive, although I couldn’t definitively call this a problem with the game as this may be due to my screen protector.
You can play both single player and multi-player, adding to the arcade action with a competitive edge. The single player begins with a tutorial and then takes you in to the solo challenges, where you are competing against yourself to see how high you can hit the hacky sack with no movement of the character required, other than that perfectly timed jump. You can then play team mode, where the touch screen is used to juggle multiple hacky sacks between an increasing number of characters. In run mode, you have a limited number of hits to reach a set height, using your analogue stick to move Jay left and right. The stakes are raised when you move on to the tilt mode, where you have to play keepy-uppy, tilting the switch to move left and right, adding another dimension of difficulty. Finally, once you have perfected your timing and your tilting, you can take on the Ultimate challenge, combining the Run and Tilt modes in to one Hyperball Federation Tournament!
The multiplayer offers co-op versions of the variety of modes as well as introducing the battle mode. However, this is unbalanced, anyone who is new to the game will get absolutely crushed – so I’m inviting my brother round after a bit more practise to enact my revenge for his California Games victory all those years ago! To be fair, after the initial thrill of playing a new multiplayer game, the novelty wears off pretty quickly and the continuous challenge of knocking a ball into the air for no other reason than to keep it there becomes rather dull.
The graphics are a wonderful homage to the glorious pixelated games of my childhood and they work perfectly on a small screen. The chip tunes are fantastic, reminiscent of Streets of Rage 2 with a hint of F-Zero in the mix, perfectly accentuating the retro-gaming aesthetic. It is all very well done and the tunes will be stuck in your head for days but with the fast pace of the game they do become repetitive very quickly.
However, it is not just the music which becomes repetitive very quickly: there is about 20 minutes worth of entertainment in Ultra Hyperball before you realise there is just not a lot to do.
Which, in the end, is Ultra Hyperball’s ultimate undoing. Were there more game modes, instead of using controller limitations as a form of variety, this would have been a far more entertaining game. Imagine a multi-player version of hacky sack mixed with basketball, a Nidhogg-esq tug of war with up to four players jostling for control as they try to push further into enemy territory or a diabolic challenge mode where you have to ascend the side of an endless tower, desperately trying to keep control of the hacky sack whilst traversing various moving platforms and avoiding environmental hazards. There is so much more you could have done with this game that Ultra Hyperball feels empty and more like a mobile title than a console game. Even the hacky sack section in California Games had you doing tricks and smacking a seagull in the chops and once you realise a game released 30 years ago has more content, you know Ultra Hyperball is in trouble. Ultra Hyperball has a delightful retro-feel, fast game play and easy to learn controls, but there’s just not enough here to keep you coming back for more.