The Perplexing Orb: Bounce N’ Roll is a platforming game indie stuff TreeFall games. It shares a sub-genre with other rolling ball platformers like Trailblazer, Bouncer, Spindizzy and, if you want an example that isn’t from the ’80s, Super Monkey Ball. It’s the third entry in a series of Perplexing Orb games with the previous two also being available on PSN.
This minimalist platformer sees you controlling a ball (or orb if you will) through forty levels (in the main campaign) in an effort to get to the finishing post of each level. Along the way there are little tokens to pick up too. But your main job is just to get through the levels. There’s no plot to speak of or introductory sequences. Instead you’re just left to get on with it but thankfully the game is very intuitive to pick up. You control your ball with the left analogue stick (or the d-pad but that’s more sensitive and so we abandoned that after a couple of seconds of trying) and you can jump. Beyond that, there are no additional controls.
The game’s forty levels are split into four areas of ten levels each. The first is the desert-themed one where you just have to deal with the basics of platforming with nothing more difficult than the occasional moving platform to deal with. However, you’ll soon realise that the levels aren’t your biggest problem. We mentioned Super Monkey Ball before but this is Super Monkey Ball if we lost the war. Colder, starker and more minimalistic. Everything feels more harsh. From the dead bounce of the ball to the fixed camera position which often does you no favours and makes some jumps a literal leap of faith.
As the areas change, new obstacles are introduced. The ice world adds ice blocks that crumble underneath you (although, thankfully, there’s no slippy ice inertia added), the city world adds more verticality (which again is a challenge with this camera) and the medieval looking final area adds cage lifts and guillotine things. It’s what you expect from this sort of game. New elements to worry about but the game, wisely, never adds anything too infuriating. Sure, there were levels that had us ready to chew through the company DualSense but everything was beatable and not nearly as arduous as we feared.
And that’s kind of the odd thing about Bounce N’ Roll. Sure, the presentation is stark, the controls stiff and the level design a little simplistic but there was a degree of addictiveness that kept us hooked for as long as it took to beat the campaign and then go back to mop up the trophies. And if you want more content beyond that there are also eight challenge stages and a time trial mode too. Although, there are no leaderboards which is a shame, especially for the latter mode.
What holds back the game are just a couple of silly decisions that may have been picked up with better playtesting. Certainly, being able to rotate the camera would really help with judging jumps (and may have allowed for more scope in creating more interesting levels), the difficulty curve rises and falls in each area meaning you can have a really trick stage followed by four or five absolute gimmes, you can’t restart a stage (you can only exit or skip to the next one), you can’t see if you’ve earned the tokens for beating a level in one life or getting all the pick-ups while in a level and, most annoyingly, you can’t jump if you’re on the very edge of a platform. Like, sometimes you’ll land right on the corner but the game won’t let you save yourself. It feels unfair given the rubbish camera set up. And it might have been fun to allow it and then have the player frantically correct and over-correct trying to steady themselves. Indeed, even the in-air steering barely has an effect. It’s like trying to safely pilot a bowling ball at times.
The presentation isn’t great either. We enjoyed the music to a degree and the pixel filter on the visuals gave the game a bit of a PS1 look but the menu interface, in-game design and general feel of the game feel a little unloved.
So while we’ve got quite a few complaints about aspects of the game, the truth is that we enjoyed it despite them. It’s better to have not enough inertia than way too much, the levels were always frustratingly doable even when we struggled and ultimately this made for a fun evening’s worth of platforming, even if ultimately it probably won’t live long in the memory.
+ Level design and mechanics never go too far
- Stiff controls
- Poor camera