I don’t understand the appeal of NASCAR. I simply can’t fathom the interest of watching cars race around and around a mostly circular track. I get watching foot races, or even animal races, but the car racing in such a lengthy, repetitive fashion just numbs my brain. But I also understand that it’s a multi-million dollar industry that attracts a TON of spectators, both in person and on TV, and it’s the lifeblood for some folk. I mean, we have three Pixar movies on the subject, and they’re a massive success on a global scale. The point is, not every sport is for every person, and it’s something I had to keep in mind while playing Ultra Hyperball.
Ultra Hyperball is a competitive(?) sport(?) that comes to us as a Nintendo Switch exclusive from Springloaded Games. The objective of the game is to hit a ball with your head again, again and again to reach maximum height and maintain it for a set amount of time or hits. If you’re old enough to remember California Games, this is basically the footbag event but you just keep pushing Up instead of working out sweet foot combos. While the early stages involve simply hitting the bag from a standing position, you work your way up to controlling multiple people at once, using the tilt controls to sway back and forth and, eventually, running around and trying to headbutt the ball. If you do the single player missions, there’s a small storyline of a boy who dreams of becoming a professional Hyperball player and him moving closer to that dream with each unlocked iteration of the game.
The simplicity of Ultra Hyperball is both a blessing and a curse to the game itself. On the one hand, the mechanics have been polished pretty tightly, in my opinion. You only have to worry about one button, possibly two if you’re doing the run style and need to use the joystick. Once you get the timing down for when you need to hit the ball, the sky’s the limit with how well you can do. Since you don’t need to move much as long as you hit the Hyperball dead on, even with the Tilt mode I didn’t need to move around much. The tilt calibration, by the way, was also pretty tight once you did an initial re-calibration (left shoulder button). It was something that everyone in my family could figure out to some degree of success and, being mostly intuitive, that was a big bonus for a previously unknown “sport.”
On the other hand, if you’re not initially hooked by the game, the chances are high that you will never be. The aforementioned storyline is delivered in MASSIVE monologue chunks that basically boil down to “Alright, got good at that, now lets do this!” There’s a bit of heart to it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the reason you’ll keep playing. The incentive to get better and place higher on the stages only leads to unlocking new characters that, while cute and had a good variety, bear no different skills or abilities than anyone else. And even the multiplayer modes are just you vs one to three other friends in….jumping. You’ll really want to do at least the tilt mode, because motionless jumping just leads to people either getting bored or people trying to attack you in real life to make you miss. Much like Death Squared, the multiplayer can be seriously affected by the attitudes of whom you play with.
I also need to mention the second method of gameplay, Touch, requires the player to undock the Switch in order to use the touchscreen for…jumping. It’s a really weird addition that felt drastically not great in comparison to the rest of the game. I understand that Springloaded Games has done a ton of mobile titles in the past, but this felt like they needed to use every aspect of the Switch in their title to justify the exclusivity, resulting in a shoehorned moment of discomfort. Thankfully, not doing it doesn’t inhibit moving onto other game modes, but, even when mobile, I preferred playing in the other styles.
The presentation of Ultra Hyperball is absolutely gorgeous on all fronts. Text aside, the game’s style is a beautifully done bit/pixel art that is both current and retro in the same go. The unlockable characters, of which there are a whopping 49, all have a certain charm to them and are absolutely worth achieving if you want to keep playing the game in a friendly, competitive fashion. I particularly enjoy Insurance Dog, as he feels the most out of place in a game about headbutting a ball. The level designs have a fair amount of difference, from the murky streets where kids play after dark to the extravagant festival grounds of the Hyperball professional tryouts. If you focus on single player mode, you get to track the ball’s height and see the detail of the skylines and beyond, even glimpsing into a pixel spacescape. It’s really something to behold.
And the soundtrack! I have a soft spot for chiptune, I really do, and Ultra Hyperball does a bang up job of capturing the perfect aural motif for a sports game. It’s somewhere between driving and light hearted, and it will earworm its way into your brain for the remainder of the day. If you don’t like the classic blips and bloops that chiptune creates, then I highly recommend playing the game on mute, because it’s chiptune all the way down.
So where does that leave Ultra Hyperball? This is another title that lives and dies by how well it captures your attention in the first couple of minutes. If you’re hooked by the aesthetic and enjoy the rhythm of the game mechanics, then good news, this is the game for you. If you’re looking for any kind of serious change up or deeper meaning that comes from the game, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. What you see is what you get and, for some, that’s going to be more than enough. It’s cute, it’s simple, and it can easily be enjoyed by several people at once. I hope that Springloaded Games considers adding some kind of online leaderboard in the future, because this has the hallmark of a classic arcade game, and I can see people practicing and working their butts off to Hyperball their way into four or five digits of height. Until then, Ultra Hyperball stands out for it’s look and sound and, in the right hands, this could be a great party game on a rainy afternoon.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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