Bad physics puzzles are easy to find, and enough of you have probably been burned by them to warrant an Oprah special. We could sit on the couch and haltingly tell her about poor collision detection and ill-conceived level design, biting our lips and looking away when she asks us how that made us feel. And then we could talk about how games like MagnetiBall are teaching us to trust again. And then Oprah would tell everyone to look under their seat, and there would be a new car and somebody's autobiography.
In MagnetiBall, you control a small, round ball over the course of 60 levels, where the objective is to get it into the checkered finish line by any means necessary.
... is... is that a cattle prod?! Put that away! I don't even want to know where you got that or why it has its own tasseled carrying case. No, here "any means necessary" means utilizing the ball's unique magnetic properties by clicking on gears. When you do, the ball will zip in the direction of the gear and stay there for as long as you hold down the mouse button. Releasing the button causes your ball to drop or stop moving. While this is a simple mechanic, it opens the door for some surprising fancy moves as you learn how to zip yourself around obstacles, Spider-Man style.
As the game wears on and the level design becomes more and more elaborate, the game allows you to rotate the screen by tapping the [left] and [right] arrow keys, which will cause the ball to drop in the new direction. You'll occasionally only be able to rotate in one direction or not at all, so don't get too reliant on flipping the playfield.
Despite the title of the game, which implies the ball you're controlling is some sort of, y'know, metal that can be attracted by magnets, the farther you get, the quicker you'll come to the realisation that what you actually have here is some sort of hyper-magnetic soap bubble. Yes, we were surprised too. But there's no other explanation for the way it bursts upon contact with the spikes that start cropping up in later levels, making the game a whole lot trickier. No more flopping around like a fish out of water for you, dear reader. Not that you would, of course.
Analysis: It seems you can't swing a stick these days without hitting a physics puzzle. And aside from seriously impeding one's stick-swinging day-to-day activities, this also means we're expecting more and more from them, and are less willing to overlook problems. By keeping its presentation so simple and slick, MagnetiBall is able to focus much more on gameplay than relying on flash and bling to keep us hooked. This is not to say that MagnetiBall is some burly, romance novel hero of a game, here to sweep you off your feet and croon sweet nothings into your ear while you sail away into the sunset. It isn't perfect, but it is a remarkably tight and well-made little package. There are only really two moves to master, but the level design is sharp enough that the approach to each one rarely feels stale or unfair.
For me at least, the real star of the game is the levels themselves. It would have been easy to just make a series of punishing mazes, but MagnetiBall treats you right, with some really clever design. Each one presents its own challenge, so that you really feel as though you've accomplished something when you finish it.
There are some levels that feature no magnets for poor MagnetiBall to use, and require you to get to the finish by sheer luck alone. Or at least, the way the ball behaves as though it's falling through pudding is odd and frustrating enough on these levels to feel like all you can do is cross your fingers as you flip the screen about. I wish the ball behaved more like it were made of metal so it would have been easier to predict where it would fall.
The game informs you of the top time for each level when you complete it. In a way, this is actually a good thing. There were times that I was frustrated after having spent too long fiddling on a level, and oddly enough the realisation that it was indeed possible to finish it in a tiny time frame was comforting. It meant that there was a rhyme and reason to it all, and all I had to do was figure it out. You can win levels by thrashing about like a lunatic on, but it's so much more satisfying when you don't.
And when I did figure out that sneaky little solution? Oh, you can bet I wore my Smug Hat that day. The downside is that the farther you go, the solution is less frequently "Ooohhh, your brain is so strong" and moreso "HEYQUICKCLICKHERESLOWPOKE". But MagnetiBall is still a stellar example of how you don't have to be complex to be fun. Deceptively simple, definitely challenging, it's more than deserving of your time.
Thanks for sending this one in, Accent!