Let's Replay: Ballz

Release Date
SNES, Mega Drive, 3DO
Single Player, Multiplayer
PF Magic

You may already be familiar with the wildly popular Petz series from the late 90’s and early noughties, where players were able to adopt and care for a variety of Dogz and Catz. This simple PC game allowed players to stroke and groom their virtual animals, feed them, play with them, and generally attend to their wellbeing. Those same players may be amused to learn that the developers of this cutesy series were not always so innocent.

Before they turned to animal philanthropy, the programmers over at PF Magic created a beat ‘em up in a similar vein to Street Fighter. Ballz was the place where they developed their staggering ball technologies to render featureless orbs, and they forced those orbs to beat the ever-living snot out of each other.

Tongue Tarmac! Get Off With Gravel!

Ironically, given that the game is made up of smooth, spherical surfaces, Ballz tries very hard to be edgy. It’s a game that is chock-full of farting monkeys, testicle puns, and a rather bizarre theme tune that features a breathless, moaning woman. As your fighters duke it out, screens around the arena will narrate the action with sarcastic phrases. In some ways, the game displays a similar sense of humour to the Clayfighter series, which is to say that it doesn’t have much of a sense of humour at all. Ballz is just a bulging package full of innuendo.

Released in 1994, Ballz tried to introduce 3D fighting before the Tekkens and Toshidens managed to nail it down. Hold up on the d-pad and your character will walk off into the sunset. Since the camera doesn’t move, it can sometimes be difficult to judge distances and your attacks will often fall short while you’re off gallivanting in the background. This means that there is virtually no tactical advantage in being able to move around a 3D arena, but it is an interesting example as to how early 3D games tried to implement this extra dimension.

When it comes to simulated spherical violence, Ballz is far from smooth. The controls never feel responsive, lending the game to mindless button mashing in order to get your character to react. There always seems to be a level of input lag. Since the game doesn’t have a discernible move list, you’ll often find yourself hammering buttons in vague patterns hoping to discover some sort of special move. While there are plenty of moves to be found, including throws, finishers and farts, you’ll need a lot of practice to work out combinations outside of your standard punches and kicks. Since controlling your character isn’t exactly a joyful experience in the first place, most players are unlikely to delve much deeper into these mechanics.

Ballz features an impressive roster of fighters to choose from, from monkeys and clowns to ballerinas and humanoid rhinoceroses. All characters have different moves, can jump at different heights, and have different amounts of health. The roster is not very well balanced at all, meaning that certain characters have a distinct advantage. For example, one of the fighters has a ranged attack, which you can seriously exploit the single player game with since the AI cannot cope with it. Other than this, there isn’t a lot to get attached to in terms of appealing character design. All you have is a bunch of featureless, hairless Ballz.

It’s hard to imagine, but these balls used be characters.

Aesthetically, the game is dull and lifeless. Every character is made of balls, which may be colourful, but they lack any sort of personality. Watching two characters fight is like watching a grown man writhe naked around in a ball pit, only far less pleasurable. The animation is choppy, and combined with the input lag, this makes the game a rather jarring experience.

Overall, this game is one that is best confined to the past. There are many obvious jokes that can be made about the quality of Ballz. However, I still hold out hope that there will one day be a sequel named Testiclez, just to hammer the point home.

Play It For: The curiosity of playing an early example of 3D fighting, to serve as a lesson in just how far we’ve come as a species.