Game Review: Powerball (Commodore 16 and Plus/4, Mastertronic)

Powerball, Commodore 16 and Plus/4, Mastertronic - 2C0142
  • 7/10
    Score - 7/10


Powerball does at first test the mettle of most gamers, but once you get used to the control method and the way that you can bounce around,  that patience reaps a lot of rewards.  Some sensible game design and the fact you can continue where you left off helps enormously, and makes a promising game into a good one.  It is well worth the challenge and the patience.

User Review
7/10 (1 vote)

Powerball (or Power Ball as it says on the title screen) will give you, claims the blurb, no chance.  From the moment the game loads you are thrust straight into the action, where you aim to bounce your ball left and right, avoiding dropping through the floor whilst avoiding all sorts of objects, including spiky house plants, meanies, and the odd missile here and there firing at you.  There are eight levels of increasing difficulty against the clock which mean that you must have your wits about you, as well as mastering the controls and bouncing, to complete the game.

Altered Plots

It is noticeable that this, like several Patrick Strassen games, had the plot line altered quite a bit by Mastertronic after Patrick had submitted the game.  Plus/4 World has the information sheets from Patrick archived, which shows that the game was more about collecting the golden chalices and a number of those collected would indicate how well you have done in the game.  It does at least also give you an idea of how the game was structured, and is a fascinating read – well done to them for working with Patrick to have this available.

Bouncy Bouncy

As you move the ball, you will notice that the ball bounces a short distance, enabling you to get over the basic gaps.  However, for the larger gaps, you can hold down the fire button, and your ball bounces higher.  I found it easier in parts to bounce the ball stationary with fire held, and then press right when I wanted to do a big bounce, or you can keep going with big bounces to progress – but you know full well there will be a trap of a hole in the floor which your ball is inevitably going to land in.  The first level gives you a chance to get used to the bouncing controls, and introduces the spiky plants, where careful positioning of the ball is needed to bounce over them.  You will also find that you can bounce against walls for example to get the ball positioned better for a larger bounce, if need be, and releasing fire also slows down the bounce and height too.

One thing you will also notice close to the end of the first level is the golden chalice.  Bounce your ball into that and you will receive a considerable number of bonus points.   Each chalice is placed in the same location on the level it is on – on the second level, it is mid-way through with a big bounce needed to head up to it, but you may lose time trying to get it.  Yes, there is a time limit, and whilst not necessarily the tightest (and does at least reset when you lose a life) that does bring about some added pressure to ensure you complete the level.  The end of that level shows the firing arrows, and the meanies in later levels come at you, so you bounce over them or bounce back over a gap so that they fall down that gap.

Continuing Onwards

One carefully considered feature of the game is the option to continue from where you last left off.  When you lose all your lives and it is game over, you can press fire to start again, but if you press down instead, you will carry on where you left off.  This is a very sensible addition, allowing you to see more of the game without being too frustrated, and allows you to work out a way to defeat the later levels and be able to put that into practice as you need if doing a run from the start.  It improves the gameplay hugely, and makes the game fairer too.  Well done for putting that in.

Later levels really do get tricky, with the need to be able to bounce off the walls to get into the correct position, or take a leap of faith into a jump which you might just make at normal speed.  There is a good learning curve but by the time you get to the final level, it does really become extremely difficult, and maybe a tweak of that difficulty curve might have made a difference as some will get frustrated with this game, even with the handy continue option.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are reasonable with the ball nicely defined, if a bit square, and the backgrounds and bricks all drawn okay.  You do get the obstacles such as the spiky plants and arrows with some splashes of colour, and the screen does scroll smoothly too, essential for this game.  There are a few sound effects in game including the bounce of the ball (which may annoy you after a while) and a little jingle when you start each level.  Nothing earth shattering either way, but functional at least and does allow you to at least see the game when playing it rather than have some fancy background blocking your way.

Final Thoughts

Although at times it can be frustrating, Powerball offers a good challenge, with suitable perseverance.  Working out the right bounces to progress past the obstacles in the way does take practice, and the nice addition to continue where you left off does add longevity – in that you can have a few goes at getting past an obstacle and see more of the game without having to repeat everything.  While the graphics and sound are not necessarily excellent, there is a solid playable game here which really does have that one more go factor in abundance.  Now excuse me whilst I try to get the golden chalice on level eight…

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1 Comment

  1. Powerball is certainly one of those “one more go” games. Like Anirog’s Tom Thumb, pulling down on the joystick after losing your final life to continue where you left off with zero score is a real incentive to keep playing, to explore the whole game and to get the practice in for hi-score runs.

    Unfortunately like Tom Thumb, there is a kill game bug at the end. This doesn’t occur until the second wave on the Anirog game.

    But on Powerball, after you beat the final level 8, the map beyond it becomes a garbled death trap where you automatically start to lose all of your remaining lives. I uploaded this sad ending on YouTube back in 2009.

    I guess Patrick either ran out of room for a Congratulations game over screen, or simply overlooked it. Even a loop back to level 1 would have sufficed.

    I doubt anyone could finish the game on one play anyway, so it still makes for a fun hi-score challenge. Except that you’ll need to jot the score down somewhere as there’s no hi-score status either.

    Still, it is by no means a deal breaker. It’s a tough challenge, but a fun little game which will keep you happily frustrated for a short while.

    7/10 from me.

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