Do you remember the Mad Max game that came out in 2015? It sold quite well and seemed to find an appreciative audience, despite the fact that critics at the time felt it to be fairly average. The divide came down to one thing – reviewers had played plenty of those Ubisoft-style open world games in quick succession, and had become a bit bored of them. But even if you’re not reviewing games, if you play enough of them you may find that boredom with staple genres is a real threat. That’s why I find myself attracted to oddities and unusual genre fusions. If you can sell me a combination of “Genre A meets Genre B” that I haven’t encountered before, I’ll probably give it a try.
That’s why I love games like Nitro Ball. I like to imagine the pitch meeting at Data East, where the higher-ups sit dumbfounded as a developer presents pinball as the one thing that would have improved a game like Mercs. That’s what Nitro Ball is – a vertically scrolling run-and-gun, with the game show presentation of Smash TV and plenty of stage furniture inspired by pinball. Enemies can be knocked back into holes for bonuses, spinners dispense prizes – and what do prizes make? (“Points!” – you, presumably.) There are bonus sections where you have to knock down all the targets in a certain time limit, and you can even turn into a giant ball and rampage around the screen, crushing everything in your path. It’s great fun, until the first boss starts rolling into you for some payback. There are some excellent presentational touches too, as each stage is themed like a pinball table, with the end of level scoreboard featuring cool artwork representing the stage.
Nitro Ball is a very good game which is a little bit unconventional and chaotic, and sometimes that can work against it – it can feel pretty overwhelming at times. But it doesn’t feel quite like anything else out there, and when you’ve played hundreds of games, sometimes that’s just better than another competent take on something you’ve played to death.