While playing Blast Ball, the competitive multiplayer component of Metroid Prime: Federation Force, I couldn’t shake a feeling of deja vu. I’d played this before, right? Right!? Yes, it takes inspiration from two very clear sources, both upcoming releases in their own right, though it does so in a way that still manages to feel distinct enough to stand on its own.
The easiest way to describe Blast Ball is to point out these influences: Videoball and Rocket League. Both games are team-based arena titles with goals and a vague connection to soccer. This isn’t the first title of the sort from developer Next Level Games, which was behind the stellar Mario Strikers franchise. Like Videoball, you’re charging shots and firing them at the ball for increasingly powerful pushes, and this indirect propulsion is the only way you’ll get the ball in the goal. Like Rocket League, everything’s set in a futuristic, enclosed 3D arena, with pickups around the field and a tech-heavy neon aesthetic.
Where it makes itself into something different is with its controls. Moving a clunky-but-precise mech is very different from careening about in Videoball or Rocket League, and it may not be as exciting, but the small arenas make up for it. You also don’t have a great view of the arena itself, making awareness come at a true cost as you’ll have to look away from the action to see what’s going on elsewhere.
We tested the game head-to-head, each with assistance from two AI companions. It’s clear that the game’s best played with a full group of friends, as you can’t exactly coordinate with the computer. With a set of six, though, you can start to make tactical maneuvers, like focusing on taking out an opponent and using the power play time to advance. As it is, it’s difficult to score when everyone’s on the field, but it’s also difficult to bring down a foe without ignoring the ball entirely and giving the opposition a shot. A practiced team with a dedicated goalie and two attackers could provide a good balance, though, as you deflect and subsist until you have stronger numbers.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force doesn’t release until next year, so there’s some time for polish, but Blast Ball could certainly use some. There are times when it runs at a poor frame rate and certain segments that have it rendering at lower than the 3DS’ already-limiting resolution. It’s possible that these were inelegant solutions to getting the game running in a decent way in time for the show, but if this is how it looks in a controlled local wireless environment, it’s anyone’s guess how it will function over the handheld’s notoriously weak online connection. We’d also like to see the lock-on function, which currently lets you hold down L to stay pointed toward the ball, to have a toggle option; clamping down your index finger for an extended time can hurt, and it’s rare that you’d want to shift your focus elsewhere.
It’s interesting to see Nintendo dip its toes into the competitive multiplayer scene lately, but I’m not so confident that Blast Ball will continue the magic that we’ve seen in a game like Splatoon. Still, though, Next Level Games has some time to work on the mode and prove that it has depth and longevity.