Take Two Interactive
July 26, 2000
7 10425 23070 7
1 to 2 Players
Everyone – Animated Violence
Roll With the Punches, Roll Over the Competition!
Sentenced to an eternity in an ultra violent intergalactic prison for a crime you didn’t commit, you only have one shot at freedom, and it’s a long hard road to roll down. You will have to go head to head with the “Best of the Worst”. The most vicious and violent humanoid prisoners the galaxy has to offer. Fight your way across the universe, beating any and all opponents…If you’re tough enough, you can win back the freedom that is rightfully yours…if you’re the last man rolling!
- There are no known variants.
- There are no known misprints.
In the year 2000, budget titles were finding a nice comfortable niche on the PlayStation. With many consumers trading-in or handing the original hardware down to their younger siblings, the system was ripe for the pocket change crowd.
Take Two Interactive was one of the early budget title publishers, bypassing Sony’s Greatest Hits program by simply selling games out of the gate for $9.99 each. While their selection had some great diversity and promising titles, one in particular was hiding one of the most rewarding and addictive game play experiences in the entire PlayStation library. That game is Ball Breakers.
To describe the game in simplest terms, it’s Marble Madness crossed over with the American Gladiators and dipped in a Mad Max aesthetic. The storyline is there only to provide justification for the crazy character designs and gameplay, but it’s not without merit. Synthetic species locked in prison are given the option of joining a tournament to win their release from confinement. The catch is that the entry fee for this tournament is quite literally cutting off your body’s lower half and replacing it with a floating ball attachment.
Imagine turning yourself into BB-8 from Star Wars and you’ll get a good idea of what to expect. Once mutilated and re-built, the synthetics must run through a gauntlet of different prison systems, each having their own arenas and challenges. These contests are divided into 7 possible events:
The simplest of the seven events. The player and 4 other computer controlled prisoners must race through a track and be the first to cross the finish line to win. The tracks become longer and more obstacle driven as the game progresses.
In Tag, it’s the game’s equivalent of a skateboarding collecting quest like the VHS tapes in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. You must collect the designated number of tags before time runs out. Physics play an important roll in this event as you must learn to keep your speed and gain enough height on certain jumps. As players make their way further into the prison system, the levels become less skate park and more post-apocalyptic playground.
Run The Gauntlet
Players must survive a maze full of machine guns, laser guns and fire traps, other prisoners and spikes to reach the finish gate. Gauntlets become more twisted and more creative in trap locations as the game goes on. Of the seven events, the gauntlet will be the earliest chance for gamers to start messing with the levels, but more on that later.
Last Man Standing
This one’s easy – be the last prisoner left alive before time runs out. Stages will become longer with locked doors, which will only open once the current occupants are dealt with. There are ways around that though, but your rolling skills must be pitch perfect.
The sports entry of the events. Powerball is essentially being a football running back needing to throw the ball and attach it to a magnetic pole several times. Here players will need to score a set amount of points by attaching said amount of balls to the scoring column. Hazards, other prisoners, and even some level design will all try to stop you from scoring.
King of the Hill
My favorite of all the events, and also a huge stress release. Contestants must roll up to a platform and stay within a marked location by themselves. The timer slows down for every rival that enters it, which means gamers will need to shove, push, and bat-swing the competition off the platform to make sure they hit the time limit.
The final event in the game is Pursuit, and it is the most diabolical of the entire set. Here, your goal to is reach the end of the level before the arena literally flattens behind you. On false step and you’ll sink into a watery grave. It’s here that the game’s brake button will be used the most – to the point of possibly snapping the actual controller button.
These events are planned out across 10 prison systems, until the final events pit you against the other playable characters. Once they’re taken care of, you face the warden himself. Topple that monstrosity, and your victory and freedom to enjoy the universe will be once more secure.
You’ll have access to six different synthetic contenders – each having their own set of strengths and weaknesses. The speedy Angel, the well-rounded Apostle, the super-strong Benny, the maniacal Lockdown, the agile SO-PH-IE, and then the hidden character The Doctor. The latter is unlocked by earning a medal in every event, and he even has an extra attack option. For the review, I stuck with Apostle thanks to his well-balanced stats and that he looked a bit like Soul Reaver.
From there, it’s off to the prisons. Finishing an event will award you a medal; securing a specified time will earn you a Gold Medal. Earning a gold medal reveals Ball Breaker’s most devious feature, The Lost Times, which I alluded to earlier in the events descriptions.
A Lost Time is a goal set so high that the only way to actually obtain the lofty time is to break the level. For example, a race stage’s main goal might be 4 minutes. A gold medal will require you to finish the race in 2 minutes. The Lost time will require you to finish it in 30 seconds. No. Really. Some stages have Lost times of 8 seconds or less.
My favorite example of how you must break the game comes from one of the Pursuit stages. A set of widely space platforms in a giant pool of water must normally be navigated with careful jumps and proper breaking. To achieve the Lost Time, the player will need to quite literally hurl themselves through the water, taking heavy damage and hoping to use the momentum to roll up over a barrier and right into the goal line.
Controls are easy enough to understand, allowing players the ability to run, jump, punch, pick up and throw items, and pick up weapons and use them as well. The Marble Madness reference is on point. Ball Breakers physics take speed and gravity into account, so if you know how to use a hill or incline to your advantage, insane speeds and air can be achieved.
The music and sound effects are fairly standard, but there’s something about the soundtrack that fits the game just right. For a game where repeated attempts are the main feature, it’s nice to have a soundtrack that isn’t repetitive.
From a graphics standpoint Ball Breakers delivers thanks in part to its simple designs. Lighting effects dot the landscape, various transparencies abound and even the level melting effect in Pursuit looks cool. All 6 combatants and in-game rivals are well details despite their simple wireframe structures. For a $10 game, there’s a lot to be happy with on the platter.
Finally, there are two last pieces to the puzzle, one a reward and the other a mystery lost to time, quite literally. With the former, the Gold Medals one unlocks will eventually open up the hidden prison. Here players will have access to two different versions of golf. In one, the meter to launch the ball as if swinging a club. In the other, its pushing the ball along with the beam.
The latter however, is one of the PlayStation’s great mysteries. When a player achieves one of the Lost Times, the game will display a 32-Bit Hex value. This value acts as a sort of security tag that would prove the Lost Time was a valid entry and not GameShark’ed or Photoshopped. A speed-running community reached out to the developers and sadly even they don’t remember the purpose of the confirmation codes. More then likely it was for a potential contest, but clearly nothing ever arose from it.
Researching magazines from around that time frame and even combing Lost Toys’ and Take Two’s web-sites through archive.org produced nothing as well. The point of the Lost Time’s security hashes truly have been lost to time.
20 years later and Ball Breakers is still a treasure buried in the PlayStation’s library. It features white knuckle challenge; an absolutely addicting reward system and it’s ever demanding Lost Times keep bringing the player back for more. It’s not just a Speed-runner’s dream game, it’s a Trophy / Achievement Addict’s bread and butter. Each character is locked to their own play-through, so in effect you have 6 different runs to unlock over 70 medals per character.
The game tracks your number of tries for each event, and it can run from 3 tries to well over a hundred….or two hundred…in my case. But look, I made the Lost Time, ha-ha!
As of this review’s publish date, Ball Breakers is still pennies on the dollar compared to other PlayStation games. Its addictive game play, great variety of events, unique designs and visuals are betrayed by its own existence. Were this a Crash Bash game, with Sony’s mascots riding on top of giant balls in a comic world, this would have sold gangbusters. Trapped behind generic characters and a late release date, Ball Breakers instead finds itself waiting for the next gamer to unlock its true potential.
On Game-Rave’s review scale, Ball Breakers is a “Great” 8 out of 10.
If you’re looking to have some fun with the game’s speed-running potential, check out the group at MoHoCommunity on Twitter. They’re a small group, but they’ve been doing some crazy things to achieve the Lost Times and helped me with some of the research.
- Stupidly addicting progression and rewards
- Simple graphics with wonderful lighting effects
- Replay factor is off of the charts for Speed-runners
- The difficulty spikes around the 6th prison
- Lost Time’s secret Security Hashes lost to time
- Lack of a brand name buried the game
Final Score: 8 / 10 – Great
Ball Breakers isn’t the most glamourous game in the PlayStation Library, but it makes up for it with a consistently rewarding experience and years of replay with the Lost Times feature. Take it for a spin.
A video version of the review posted on the other tab. Includes game play footage of all 7 event types and more.
- Part of Take Two Interactive’s budget title series, where games were $9.99 at launch.
- On the back of the case, one of the events is called “Trick ‘n Tag” but in-game it’s simply “Tag”
- If you earn a medal in every event, you’ll unlock The Doctor as a playable character. He’s the one who chops off your bottom half to create your arena approved body. He also has an extra attack.
- The game’s packaging only show photos of the CG movies, not the actual gameplay.
- Earning a “Lost Time” provides a hash / code string that apparently served as a checksum against potential cheating. Even the developer does not remember the purpose of including it. More then likely it would have been used in a sweepstakes or contest.
- Each character is locked to their own progression, meaning you have to play the entire game with each character separately – no swapping between events.
- Released on the Dreamcast in Europe under the name MoHo.
- Speed-runners and thrill seekers can join a small community of speed-running enthusiasts at https://twitter.com/MoHoCommunity