Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Night Rentals: Smartball

Image result for smartball snes

I was twelve when I got my Super Nintendo. I enjoyed many platformers on it, and there were just as many I did not enjoy. Then there were some that fall into that "I vaguely remember playing that as a kid" category. Well, Smartball by Sony falls right into that third area for me. As soon as I saw the package I remembered there was a ball of goo, and he was able stretch or something, and that was about it. I think I remembered playing the game. I might have beaten it too. Well, with such distinct and cherished memories as that, how could I pass up a complete copy for only $20? Was the Jackson I laid down worth the journey down memory-ish lane worth it?


You are Jerry, a young prince who's brother was jealous of your relationship with a cute girl so he had a witch transform you into a gelatinous glob/jellybean. As Jerry the Jellybean you must roll along, stick to walls, and goo your way around the kingdom to do defeat the evil witch, break the curse and return to your former humanity.  Pretty simple right? What hidden hardships or secret gems does the game hold? doesn't really.

Gameplay and Control:

You roll along from one side of the screen to the exit on the other on the first stage, then the second stage you get a boss fight. It's simple, it's quick, and it's cute. The animations are smooth and simple. And there are no real challenges for an advanced gamer, but for kids some of the jumps and enemies could prove to be just the right level of challenge. For a Super Nintendo game the overall control feels solid and satisfying, even if it is a bit on the simple side. I didn't look at the instructions for the controls, but picked up on them within a few seconds. The system of collecting little red balls as weapons to lob at enemies and the sticking to walls felt easy enough to do, and there's a bit of tangible satisfaction to be had from making a hop and sticking to a ceiling or wall.

Graphics and Style:

Cute and cuddle is the name of the game here with fun little mice, grimacing little flames, and goofy little rocks with legs all done in bright colors. Even the boss character designs have soft, rounded edges and an overall pastel palette. Nothing really feels too 3D-ish in the game, and not much really pops here. In fact, with a slight graphics downgrade Smartball would probably play well on the NES with occasional slow-down. Aesthetically speaking, it makes me think of a kids anime, which works in its favor considering the target audience.

Music and Sound:

Not to much worth noting on either the sound design or the soundtrack for Smartball. Not that it was terrible or anything, just unmemorable. Everyone on the planet could probably identify the sound of Mario jumping or grabbing an invincibility star, but I can't recall the sound of Jerry the Jellybean hopping or lobbing the little red balls. Not that this is really a criticism mind you, just that I couldn't pick out the sounds of the game in a crowd if you pointed them out to me.  Same goes for the soundtrack. Color me unimpressed. It gets the job done, is cute, but ultimately forgettable. It could just be me though. Here's a link to the soundtrack in full, see what you think:

Memories, New Thoughts, and Overall Score:

Sometimes the nostalgia just isn't there enough for you to go back on your own. Sometimes you remember playing a game, vaguely liking it, and trying it again as an adult only to be let down. While I wasn't totally let down by Smartball, I was chagrined to discover there really wasn't a challenge there. In fact, given that I breezed through a chunk while reviewing, I think that the only challenge would be a speed run. However, the game is still worth owning for it's simple charms and I think when my kids get older, this would be a good starter game for them. As a kids' game, it has all the charms and color I would want, and yet it is free of the normal tropes that seem to plague kids game of annoying voices and "'rude-tude" characters. The controls work well, and in a time when games directed at kids seemed to have broken, or near unplayable controls, it was and still is a gem for that reason alone. I would have ranked this only as average, but the mere fact that it's a playable and still vaguely satisfying platformer puts it above many other games of this nature on the system.

Sound and Music: 7/10
Graphics and Design: 7/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10

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