Let me just come right out and say it: Ballistic Wars, by Wan Hazmer and team at Easy Only! Games, is like Advance Wars with balls. I mean that as a compliment! Thanks to the improvements to the initially submitted version of the game (improvements made based on reader feedback), Ballistic Wars is a fast-paced, turn-based strategy puzzle game that is one of my top favorites from our 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition. The original submitted version even earned the 3rd place prize ($500)!
Work your way through 15 challenging levels against a mad professor bent on blowing up, well, just about everything. Click on your "troops", represented by camouflaged balls of varying sizes and special abilities, to launch attacks against the opposing forces. Infantry can only attack directly: click on the unit, set direction and speed by moving the mouse, then click again to set the ball shooting off towards your foes. Any opposing unit hit subsequently by ricochet will also be damaged by your attack. Other friendly units can attack directly like infantry or use their special ability.
Units with special abilities include: a sniper that can shoot from afar and send foes reeling; a panic tower that uses its ability to push all units away; and my favorite, the ice cream truck, which makes everyone come running (for ice cream, of course!). The final unit is a tank, which has no special ability but deals massive damage and can take a beating. It's also slow as molasses and the size of an elephant.
Each level poses unique challenges. Some involve simple brute force attacks to reduce your enemy's hit points, others require careful planning and clever use of the environment. The levels are designed more as puzzles to solve rather than as a more traditional war game, so be sure to inspect the level carefully before making your first move. The margin for error on some levels is razor thin.
Analysis: The developers of Ballistic Wars were clearly inspired by Advance Wars, and have done a wonderful job of paying homage to that great series while presenting us with a truly unique game that stands on its own. The presentation of the story, the animation when activating a special attack, and the background music are all minor elements borrowed from Advance Wars that contribute nicely to the rest of the game, which is entirely original. The wonderful character design and animation was by Daim, and Leenyin took care of all the interface design for the game.
Using balls as military units in a billiards-style turn-based war game is a brilliant use of the ball physics theme from the competition. It's also one of the most purely fun games in the competition. Some of the other entries are equally brilliant, creative, and well-produced, but few are this much fun to play.
As much as I love the game there is some room for improvement. Each level is carefully planned and some are very challenging, but somehow few of them are very satisfying. I enjoyed playing the game itself but didn't feel a real sense of accomplishment upon finishing a level. There is clearly one intended solution to most levels and I never felt like I was able to exhibit any creativity in solving them. The background music is a nice touch but never changes, and gets very repetitive. I was also wishing for more unit variety, both for my units and for the opponent's side. With the limited time given for the competition I imagine programming a challenging opponent AI would have been a tall order for anyone.
Despite these quibbles, Ballistic Wars is a standout entry from the competition, and will hopefully be further developed and granted a sequel.
zxo - Anything reminiscent of Spybot: The Nightfall Incident has to be good, right? Right! Except for a few small usability issues (which were fixed in the update), Ballistic Wars is exactly what I look for in a casual game: easy to learn, heavy on strategy, and lots of fun! OK, so the strategies were made pretty obvious, but this move did allow more people to get hooked on the game. Easy Only Games has set the bar high for themselves, but I have no doubt that the sequel will be simply phenomenal, with more unit types, and more difficult and open-ended levels to pass.