Switchball is a 3D action/puzzle casual game download for Windows created by Atomic Elbow and published by Sierra Online. Your goal is to guide a rolling ball to the end of each stage, solving puzzles and crossing treacherous pathways all the way. The game places a heavy emphasis on realistic physics using the AGEIA engine and looks absolutely gorgeous to boot. It's an extraordinarily well-made title that balances action and puzzle solving for a thoroughly engaging experience.
Each level in Switchball sets ramps, boxes, cannons, planks, fans, sheets of cloth and more between you and the goal. To make it through you'll have to roll down narrow ramps, slide objects to clear a path, move items to create a solid floor and perform many other feats. One of the best uses of physics in the game allows you to place boxes on one end of a platform to prevent it from tipping over as you cross. A tutorial system shows hints the first time you encounter a new situation, so settling into the game is a snap.
The controls in Switchball are highly customizable, but to have the most precise control you'll need to use the mouse. Simply slide the mouse in the direction you want to move, pressing the left button for a boost of speed. You can rotate the view using the right mouse button and zoom in and out using the mouse wheel, but usually the camera shifts on its own to give you a clear view of the action.
What makes Switchball really interesting are the morph pads you'll find scattered throughout the game. Each of these spots lets you transform into a different material, bestowing upon you the power of metal, air and more. Your weight, speed and other physical properties change to match your composition, allowing you to do things your normal state could never accomplish. For example, turning into the metal ball makes you heavy and strong, allowing you to shove metal boxes with ease. The downside is that the extra weight can make you crash through weak floors and plummet to your doom.
There are 30 levels in Switchball that take place in five distinct environments: sky, ice, cave, cloud, and lava. Stage design is consistently good and feels fresh throughout the game. The difficulty increases at just the right pace, so you'll be pleasantly compelled to keep playing. And if you're looking for an extra challenge, choose timed mode from the main menu to set a time limit for each level.
Analysis: Switchball is very much like the classic Marble Madness in spirit, but the emphasis here is on realism, physics and puzzle solving. The mix of action and puzzle elements is surprisingly well-done. Even those of us who aren't as adept with a mouse as others can have a good time with the game, as there are numerous checkpoints that save your progress throughout each stage.
One rough spot in Switchball is the precision required to master the controls. This isn't an arcade game where you can jump and fly across the stage with fireworks shooting in the background. Moving the ball has a very visceral feeling to it thanks to the realistic physics, so you have to be patient. Building momentum is a key move in the game, forcing you to back up and get a running start to climb ramps or push crates. The learning curve is about half an hour, so if you put just a little time into it you'll be well rewarded.
Other than the slight learning curve for the controls/physics, Switchball is an inviting game. It's packed with fresh, original puzzles and excellent level design. You'll find it's a delightfully challenging game from beginning to end.