"Action Ball 2" is a breakout game: You move a paddle left and right in order to hit a ball, which in turn destroys blocks after hitting them. The objective is to remove all blocks from the current level. To make this more challenging, flying robots may repair blocks, place new ones, or attack you. Some blocks will reveal bonuses that you can catch. The game has 30 different bonuses, which are quite varied: paddle enlargement, multiball, explosive balls, guns, lasers, cannons, changes of ball speed or size, the ability to attract balls to your paddle, the ability to hold balls at your paddle before releasing them, "drunk" balls that move in curves, extra lives, etc. Some bonuses have negative effects and should be avoided - they can, for example, turn bricks invisible or make them evade the ball, turn the ball invisible periodically, or make the robots more dangerous. Many levels have special features on the playing field, like teleporters, explosive blocks, or structures that release additional balls when hit.
"Action Ball 2" spices the regular breakout formula up by including a few levels without a ball. These play basically like a vertical shoot-em-up game: Your paddle is still at the bottom, but is equipped with weapons from the start, and you'll have to shoot down enemies that enter the screen from the top.
Gameplay is smooth and addictive for the most part. Some levels require a bit of thinking before you find a way to crack them open, others require fast reflexes, some have you avoiding multitudes of negative bonuses, and some levels are just utter mayhem and destruction. There are also a couple of boss battles (with increasing difficulty as the campaign progresses) which provide an extra challenge. However, after playing 20-30 levels, you'll have seen most of what the game has to offer. At this time, a new graphics set or new gameplay features would have been welcome, but the game just gives you level after level, and it gets a bit repetitive. The game is still fun though - if you like breakout games.
The game doesn't have any story beyond the usual "you are the hero, complete all levels to kill the big end boss".
The game has a cute and colorful art style despite using mostly technical-looking imagery. Blocks come in a large variety of shapes and sizes; the game successfully avoids the "bricks in a wall" look of many other breakout games. Many blocks are animated, you'll see walls move left and right, rotating circles, blocks moving alone or in groups - there's always something happening on the screen.
Screen resolutions range from 800x600 to 1280x1024. Windowed and fullscreen modes are available.
The graphics are 3d, but gameplay takes place on a 2d plane, and the camera is fixed. The 3d is only noticeable when certain bosses move around, or when your own paddle flies a victory loop after beating a level. The animations are smooth.
The sound effects and music are nothing special, but good enough for a casual game. The music is light and soothing, and doesn't get on the nerves. There is no voice acting.
The interface is simple and gets the job done. The game is controlled with the mouse. The mouse speed can be customized in-game.
Task switching is supported and doesn't cause any issues.
EASE OF USE:
The game is easy to install, easy to learn, and easy to pick up after a break.
The documentation is, unfortunately, lacking. There is no manual, and the occasional info popus don't say much (several of them in the second campaign were in Russian). There is no manual. Most of the game's features can be understood without additional information, but I ever found out what the paddle upgrades do exactly, and this information doesn't seem to be available anywhere in the game.
Progress is saved automatically - as soon as you have reached a new level, the current game state (including score and remaining lives) will be saved, and you can later replay the level with these values, even if you lost your last life on the level. This means you never have to start again from the beginning if you don't want to. There is a slight danger in this otherwise very convenient feature: It encourages players to carry on through difficult series of levels with a single life (by continuously restarting), and you'll then be stuck in one of the later boss fights, which are almost impossible to win without losing a life (or a few). For an easy game, you can simply restart each level as soon as you lose a life - this will ensure that you have accumulated lots of lives by the time you need them.
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE:
The game offers 2 campaigns with 75 levels each, though some levels are recycled between the campaigns, especially the boss battles. It's still fairly short and can be completed in about 4 hours. Replay value exists only if you simply like the gameplay, and/or like to try again for a better score.
Most of the time the game is very easy, often a level can be completed in less than 2 minutes of complete chaos. Some boss fights towards the end aren't entirely fair though. When two bosses layer the playing field with laser and gun shots, and the ball happens to be in the same area, then you simply don't have a chance to catch the ball, and will lose it unless you have one specific bonus active. It would have been nice to have a short-time shield available so that the ball can be saved in such situations. As the game is currently designed, you simply have to ensure that you have a couple of extra lives before going into the later boss fights.
The game is DRM-free, which is always nice.
A nice breakout variant with a good deal of variety, but gameplay gets repetitive after a while, and there's no story or large-style change to compensate for that. Still a nice little time waster.
Review Date: 2013-03-26
Program version: n/a
Progress: played one campaign completely, and 60 of 75 levels of the other (4-5 hours in total)