Got to keep bouncing… never let it drop. Ultra Hyperball is a small exclusive indie title for the Nintendo Switch by developer Springloaded. You play as Jay, a 17-year-old teenager who aspires to become a Hyperball champion but feels he may have missed the boat due to his age. He decides to chase his dream anyway and it’s down to you to ensure that your timing is on point as you header the little shuttlecock into orbit and help young Jay fulfil his ambition.
In Ultra Hyperball, timing is the key to success as you aim to hit the shuttlecock at the peak of your jump. If done correctly, an on-screen message will indicate that you have nailed it perfectly eventually rocketing the feathered weight into the sky. Anything less than that and you will begin to lose some momentum. If you completely mistime your jump, you fail. It’s pretty much as simple as that.
After a brief tutorial and story introduction, you are lead to pursue your first set of solo challenges. In this case, you are unable to do anything besides jump. This gives you the opportunity to master your timing in preparation for the more challenging events ahead. Eventually, you do get to move left and right with your analogue stick as your shuttlecock no longer stays on a straight vertical path urging you to coordinate both the freedom of movement and timing of your hit.
After completing a few solo missions it’s soon apparent that the fundamental mechanic that the game relies on reaches its limitations very quickly. This is because the whole mission structure doesn’t change all that much. You aim to hit the shuttlecock a certain height with a set amount of jumps and then repeat the same thing as the bar becomes higher. That’s pretty much it. The way the game tries to vary things up is by making you use various control methods as mission sets. One being tilting the Joy-Con for movement and the other is touching the screen to jump. The tilt trials also resurface as the final set of solo missions, giving further indication that its core gameplay element can only be spread so thin before it runs out of butter.
The only set of trials that really change anything is the touch screen missions. You have to coordinate several characters to jump at once by touching the on-screen buttons at the right time like a juggling act. As potentially fun as it looks, in practice this becomes a bit of a pain as you have to inconveniently remove your Joy-Con to have any sense of comfort to even reach the digital buttons. The leeway of the on-screen buttons are also unforgivable in that they can lead you to constantly fail even if your finger is just slightly off the mark and, sometimes, it seems as though they just don’t respond at all. For the sake of shoe-horning this feature in to hide its lack of depth, it would seem more appropriate to just set a physical action on the Joy-Con for each character’s jump.
Sadly, the solo missions do feel a bit one dimensional, even with the added gimmickry. Some players may very well enjoy the repetition though, especially if you’re an avid completionist. Each mission has medals to earn which also unlocks various character skins and placing gold to obtain some of them can become very challenging. You can also instantly restart you attempt after failing which is always a convenient feature.
The co-op multiplayer component is the most interesting. The company of a friend who you can blame for failure or celebrate with when things work out brings out the best this game has to offer, but if you want to reach that gold to help complete your set of skins your friend needs to be on the same wavelength for any chance of success. The missions do have a bit more variety with examples such as getting a certain amount of perfect hits within a time limit or to survive as long as possible whilst juggling multiple shuttlecock.
The VS mode can grant a bit of competitive fun but, again, the variety is very limited. Although there are five multiplayer options, there’s only really two game styles with a few different rule sets. The first game style has you aiming to reach a certain height first while being restricted with only a jump button. The other gives you the freedom of movement using either tilt or move. The latter has a few different goal objectives but the gameplay is fundamentally the same – you fight over a single shuttlecock to earn points, another shuttlecock gets thrown into the mix and the game keeps going until one hits the floor. The one who gets the most hits wins.
This can be fun if played as it was intended. Or possibly even with three or four players. In a two player match, if you can get the most hits on the first shuttlecock and let it drop to the floor when the next one comes into play, you win by default which leads to most games ending in seconds. That is, unless you and your mates are pro Ultra Hyperball players with Jedi-like reactions. It does beg the question, why isn’t there a competitive mode where there’s only one shuttlecock? A mode where you can get a rally going with points based on how well you hit it? I assumed there would be, but unfortunately, it’s nowhere to be found.
The pixelated graphics do have a nice colourful charm to them though, especially the backgrounds that are full of great little details the higher the shuttlecock soars. This effect is enhanced further with the HD Rumble feedback when you land a perfect header. It’s a real shame that this graphical feature isn’t available in multiplayer where the background just stays static with nothing more than colour coded arrows to signal where the shuttlecock are. The chip music fits really well with its visuals, as they boast a nostalgic combination of SNES and Mega Drive’s catchy vibes with a few tracks that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Megaman game.
Despite its visual and audio charm, Ultra Hyperball lacks any real depth and variety to make this a title worth remembering. The multiplayer modes can be fun, but it is a shallow experience that will wade out pretty quickly. The game does touch on an interesting idea of a being a sort of hacky sack sim, a pastime that is rarely explored upon in gaming but ultimately its ideas run dry far too soon. It may prove addictive fun for some, but for others, it will feel like its been done a million times before on the App Store for the fraction of its asking price.