Simpler, smaller games live or die on the strength of their central gimmick, an idea to grab hold of the player and force them to pay attention. Sadly, Antonball Deluxe’s grand design doesn’t quite live up to its WarioWare-esque presentation.
So what’s the deal? You’ve got a pretty strong central idea in Antonball; think Arkanoid, but with you controlling a little platforming character instead of a bat. That’s a fun concept, we think, but in execution we found it singularly frustrating. Both the ball and Anton himself seem just too small, with too much scope to, well, miss. Yes, get good, we hear you, but in practice the most efficient way to “get good” is to simply find a spot from which the ball will always be reachable on its return trips, then effectively just stand there, dropping down or leaping up to hit the ball when it travels either low or high. It’s less than thrilling.
The tragedy is that it really should be good fun; there are no other weak elements here, really. Visually it’s perfectly clear and crisp, music and sound effects are a bop and the controls are responsive. It’s just that the gameplay here isn’t particularly fun. It’s also tainted by some odd decisions – you have a Wario-esque dash/ram attack, but it only works on the ball rather than the enemies who drop onto the field, which is shockingly unintuitive. You can get a gun, which helps you mop up the last few bricks – but it’s such a poxy thing that even blasting away isn’t enjoyable.
However! Antonball Deluxe has an ace up its sleeve, which is its multiplayer capability. And we mean that quite vociferously, because in multiplayer this game is rather enjoyable. It’s also ridiculously easy if you’re able to basically cover the whole screen, but this feels like the way Antonball should be played and it’s worth strongly considering if you’re looking for a new couch co-op title to enjoy. There’s also Vs. Antonball, a variant that sees two teams trying to break through each other’s bricks on either side of the screen, but we found this a touch too manic to be worth more than a handful of games.
We can’t fault the presentation, here, as there’s plenty to see and do. On top of copious unlockable characters and stages (via a Smash Bros. Melee-esque lottery), we haven’t even mentioned the other included game, Punchball. This is essentially Nintendo’s original Mario Bros. (as popularised by Super Mario Bros. 3’s battle games or packed in with every single Super Mario Advance title), except you throw a ball at enemies to knock them down instead of hitting the bricks they’re walking on. It’s about as enjoyable as Mario Bros. is, which is to say… well… there’s a reason the plumber went Super.
Antonball Deluxe is, overall, a tricky game to review. As a solo game it’s an easy pass, but on multiplayer we can see it clicking with the right group. It didn’t set our world alight, but its simple charms may just work for you and your mates.