It’s funny when I look back on my many hours spent with the Super Monkey Ball series, an awful lot of that time wasn’t with the main puzzle platforming modes but rather in the mini-games either gliding gracefully onto targets, hurling simians at bowling pins, or racing them on a series of wacky tracks. The latter in particular played host to some of the series’ more intense multiplayer sessions. What wasn’t to like after all? A Mario Kart-style racer with ball rolling physics was a neat twist on the usual karting formula and it was and has been surprising there haven’t been many copycats since.
Mindball Play looks to fill that void by taking the idea and really well… rolling with it. Here you take control of a metallic ball guiding it through a series of futuristically themed tracks with up to nineteen others competing against you. While a large sum of your performance will come down to your rolling ability and how you make best use of each track’s bends and ramps, obstacles and weapons will also come into play both making your life tougher as much as lending a helping hand.
The game plays a little differently to your typical racer in that there is no accelerate button, with movement instead handled entirely via tilting the left control stick. Every ramp, bump, and turn will require you to master the physics of the ball fighting against inclines and swerving past obstacles. Fortunately, you’re able to brake at the press of a button while a jump ability also allows for some more advanced play. Amidst the heat of the race, it might be tempting to avoid slowing at all costs but you’ll quickly discover all this will result in is a last place finish as you fall off the track over and over. Sure, maintaining your momentum is important but even more so is remaining in control if you want to stay at the front of the pack.
The track designs don’t mess around either playing host to a combination of harsh challenging features that include banks, lasers, launch pads and plenty of twisty sections with little in the way of barriers to stop you flying off. Compared to other arcade racers this definitely ranks among the tougher examples out there. It’s just a shame there aren’t more tracks in the game since the limited selection offered here means you’ll be getting very familiar with them fairly quickly.
Your weapon list is short but offers enough variety to add a small layer of chaos to the mix. The laser, for example, sees your ball shoot out beams in four directions taking out anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. The force field meanwhile might not protect you from other attacks but does eliminate anyone who happens to get close. Not every weapon is purely about the offensive attack though with boosts and the ability to go invisible offering other ways to get ahead of the pack.
Unlike most other racing titles, single player in Mindball Play isn’t merely limited to a series of grand prix-style tournaments. Instead, the game’s campaign mode sees you tacking three chapters worth of individual events each one with their own trio of challenges. While more often than not the end goal will always be to win the race itself, stars – collecting of which will unlock more events – are awarded for performing certain feats. These include never being reset (essentially never fall off the track or get attacked by an opponent), taking out other racers to earn a certain number of points or finishing under a certain time.
While relatively short the three chapters offer a decent range of objectives for you to tackle helping keep the action varied and challenging. As much as I adore the Mario Kart series it’s hard to argue how other arcade racers like Burnout and Sonic and All-Stars Racing have truly benefitted from including a wider range of single player options outside the traditional race.
Outside the main campaign, single players can compete for the fastest lap in time trial. Fortunately unlike a number of other previously released PC to Switch ports online leaderboards are included. The last option is essentially a free play mode offering an ideal chance to practice on particularly troublesome tracks.
The game’s theme has a dark, cold, futuristic tone to it and this runs throughout every track. While the environments are far from ugly, it’s all a little unambitious offering nothing you haven’t really seen before from a game, film or TV show of this sort of setting. The lack of variety too can result in tracks blending together visually. The frame rate meanwhile feels smooth (albeit not as smooth as 60 frames would) with only a handful of moments where the action causes things to dip.
Online play is certainly a nice feature to have but one I’ve found little opportunity to use thanks to the largely quiet player count. Over time hopefully, this will grow. Local multiplayer on the other hand has proven a real hit especially when you can get four people together. Everything runs smooth enough in split-screen and the simple controls translate well to the Pro Controller and even a single Joy-Con on its side. As fans of Monkey Race, we definitely felt at home here frantically rolling about and hitting each other with weapons.
Mindball Play is an interesting mash-up as it takes the arcade-racing genre and injects an intriguing physics system that helps give the action its own unique flavor. A short but challenging single-player campaign entertains while the local multiplayer proves to be the true star of the show. If you’re looking for something beyond Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (the game has been out for roughly two years now) then Mindball Play is definitely worth checking out.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Interactive IP