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Ballance Review

Ballance Review

Popular culture and social media tend to resurface a lot of things. Nobody would have remembered Lady Gaga’s Bloody Mary or Space Song by The Neighbourhood if it hadn’t been for TikTok, for example. This is also the case for Ballance, which was originally released nearly 20 years ago to reasonable critical fanfare, but not to the extent of other 2004 games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas or Half-Life 2. As a result, whilst its brethren in PC gaming continued to be fondly remembered, Ballance fell into the history books as a solid hit that perhaps didn’t set the world on fire. At the tail end of the 2010s, however, the game had something of a resurgence in popularity in China. This was because a number of users of the Chinese social media platform Bilibili had been playing the game, prompting a whole new generation of players. After a number of unofficial re-releases in that Market, Ziggurat Interactive has purchased the publication rights from Atari in order to re-release the game on Steam.

It has to be said that things didn’t start well with my Ballance experience. I opened the game initially to be greeted with an immovable and non-resizable window in the top left corner of my screen. To make things worse, as well as being too small to comfortably play the game, the options were all in German, and there was no way of changing the language from the menus presented. Fortunately, there is a setup program that you can select when you run the game on Steam that gives the option to select the language from a command line script that seems to be just an old-school batch file. This would have been an out-of-date way to set the language in 2004; in 2024, it’s positively archaic. ballance5

What I was initially presented with.

Once I put the menus into English and I could read all of the options (rather than just the ones where the words are similar enough in German for me to understand), I was in a better position. I was also able to set the game to a resolution that was bigger than a postage stamp. There are no widescreen options, so I had to set it to a 4:3 resolution. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t “helpfully” stretch the screen to fill. It turns out that Ziggurat has done basically nothing to the original game code for this re-release, instead relying on a piece of freeware called dgVoodoo to make it playable on modern versions of DirectX. There’s no mention of this fact anywhere on Steam, but I was able to find the config program for dgVoodoo in the local game files and from here I was able to change the settings in order to be able to play properly without the ball looking more like a rolling pin.

Whilst I appreciate that this is an old game and wasn’t designed for modern machines, I do think that having to make so many tweaks off my own back is unacceptable in this day and age. I have the benefit of being a regular PC gamer from long before Ballance was originally released, so I’ve got some experience with having to mess around with settings to get things working. If I wasn’t such an old fart, would I have been able to get this working? At the very least, Ziggurat should have included some sort of instructions to get it working properly. There are a number of people in the Steam discussions sharing tips on how to get the game working properly on modern machines, but nothing from the publisher itself. This leads me to believe that this is more of a low-effort cash grab than a labour of love. There weren’t even Steam controller settings out of the box, which would have taken literally seconds for the publisher to implement. 


After some fiddling, I could play relatively normally.

Enough of my setup issues, though— the game itself needs to be discussed. When I finally got it working, I very much enjoyed playing it. The basic idea is exceptionally simple: you control a ball, there’s a maze to traverse and you mustn’t fall off. Like Kula World or Marble Madness before it, this is a title that doesn’t have much in the way of complex mechanics, but that’s because it doesn’t need them. There are three kinds of balls, each with different strengths and weaknesses. For example, the concrete ball is heavy enough to move large obstacles out of the way, but far too heavy to cross rope bridges or fly to higher platforms with the aid of fans. The paper mache ball is much lighter, but it’s not the right choice if you need more torque and less speed. 

There are 12 mazes to choose from (the 13th level that the developer released for free in 2005 isn’t included, sadly), and the first six are relatively straightforward. Halfway through the game, the difficulty ramps up quite considerably, with particularly tricky manoeuvres needed to reach the end. None of them are impossible, but with limited lives to play with, you’ll likely find yourself having to restart levels because of one specific area that’s halfway through, meaning you need to replay the earlier parts of the level repeatedly. This did get a little frustrating on occasion; because Ballance is such a slow-paced game at times, I found myself going a bit too fast and speeding off the edge of platforms in an effort to get back to the part I needed practice on. If you’re blessed with more patience than I am, you may well be less irritated by this. 


Some of the puzzles get a bit complex, but with practice and patience, all are doable.

Once you have mastered the 12 included levels, there’s not really that much replay value. This is a pretty cheap title, so you’ll get your money’s worth, but don’t expect it to be something you’ll come back to time and again unless you have a penchant for speedrunning. There are no online scoreboards, only local ones; there aren’t any achievements; and there’s nothing that made me want to revisit after I’d made it through to the end of level 12. The fact that I did feel the need to keep going until I’d done that is a testament to how addictive Ballance is, however, and I do think it was worth the annoyance of both setup and repetition to get there.

On balance (pun intended), I can honestly say that whilst this is a bit of a pain to play, I did enjoy doing so. I can’t overlook the fact that the release is so sloppy, however. There are none of the quality-of-life options that you would expect for a modern re-release, but it’s cheaper than picking up a second-hand copy online, so if you remember the original and want to play it again, then it probably saves you a few quid. For those who don’t have nostalgic feelings for the original, your patience with faffing about to get a game working will determine if it’s worth it for you.


5.00/10 5

Ballance (Reviewed on Windows)

The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.

Ballance is a fun little puzzle platformer, albeit one with a rather steep difficulty curve halfway through. This port is completely unoptimised however and needs a bit of work to actually play.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review

Gary "Dombalurina" Sheppard

Staff Writer

Gary maintains his belief that the Amstrad CPC is the greatest system ever and patiently awaits the sequel to "Rockstar ate my Hamster"

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