November 16, 2007

Solving good puzzles is rewarding. Solving puzzles in a beautifully rendered world with a realistic physics system is even more rewarding, and that’s exactly what you do in Switchball. There is no story, there are no characters; Switchball is all puzzles, all the time.

Switchball‘s premise is simple: take a marble and change its composition to solve environmental puzzles. As you alter your marble’s composition you also alter what it can do. The default marble is an exception; all it can do is roll. The metal ball is heavy. It can’t pass over cloth (the cloth will tear and your marble will fall through), but it can push metal boxes. The power marble acts a lot like the standard marble in terms of weight and pushing capability. There are various power-up stations scattered about the levels that make the power marble able to jump, boost, or become magnetically charged.

Each Switchball level starts out the same way. Your marble is delivered onto the start of the level and you need to get from point A to point B. Switchball‘s puzzles are less about finding where to go and more about finding how to alter to environment to make it possible to get from start to finish. In one puzzle, you must be a metal ball to roll safely past a fan and then change into a power ball with the boost ability to adequately maneuver a half-pipe and then get into the helicopter to end the level.

Switchball features five worlds each with six levels. In a move that more puzzle games should emulate, Switchball also features both competitive and cooperative multiplayer. Competitive multiplayer allows multiple players to race through a single level. These races are done in real time; it is completely possible (and strangely satisfying) to push your opponent off the side of the level. Cooperative multiplayer is a great addition to Switchball; it features different levels than the single-player game, and all of the cooperative levels are designed with two marbles and voice chat in mind. The only thing missing from Switchball‘s multiplayer is the ability to play with multiple players on a single console.

Switchball is easy to learn but difficult to master. Levels are beautifully rendered, and puzzles are satisfying to complete. Later level puzzles require high amounts of dexterity, speed, and timing, making each victory hard-earned. Single-player time trial victories are even more difficult. The first few silver medals aren’t hard to come by, but you’ll need to know a level backwards and forwards to earn the silver and gold on later levels.

If you’re the type that likes solving puzzles then Switchball is easy to recommend. It’s pretty, it’s fun, and the achievements tied to silver and gold medal collection give this title something that most puzzlers lack – replay value.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.