Kabounce Review – Ballin’ Out (PS4)
All it takes is a vague reference to a steel ball and flippers and my wrists begin to twitch. Before long, I develop a fever that can only be cured with a roll of quarters and a trip to the arcade. Pinball is my passion, pure and simple. When there were rumblings that a new game was coming, featuring both frantic multiplayer combat and third-person action of the bumper-banging variety, my interest was piqued damn near instantly. The aptly named Kabounce recently hopped its way onto the PS4, but does it have enough momentum to make pinheads flip out without tilting?
Mixing and Matching
If you look at the gaming landscape, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re staring into a funhouse mirror. Everything is some weird, misshapen form of what the audience would expect. In many cases, this warping is accomplished by smashing together a couple of disparate genres, in hopes of accidentally landing upon the next chocolate and peanut butter combo. Kabounce, for example, looks like it’s equal parts Tron and Marble Blast Ultra. Sprinkling in projectile power-ups and airborne strikes from above, everything melds together to produce this extremely odd bowl of gaming gumbo. And this probably goes without saying, but it tends to be a bit of an acquired taste.
At its core, Kabounce is a multiplayer cacophony of combos, flippers, and chaos. Players control a single ball on the map, with the goal of running up the highest score totals for their team. Points are generated through a hybrid of bumper/zone capturing, chaining together rapid ricochets, and dishing out heaping helpings of aggression.
Each bumper, flipper, and ramp begins a match a neutral white color. These environmental locations can be captured and controlled by any member either team, which in turn changes the geography’s color to match its most recent captor. Annexing new sections of the map drive up the overall pot of points. More points are awarded for making contact with neutral or opposition-controlled bumpers than bouncing off something that’s already been claimed for the “good guys.” However, re-hitting something already possessed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Any form of contact builds upon an existing combo chain, which in turn drives up the amount of points generated by a fresh real estate seizure.
Breaking the Bank
While building up the team’s total score is ultimately what wins a match, there’s still a bit of give and take to the action. For one, players can attack any ball from the opposite team which, if successful, results in the attacker stealing a portion of the victim’s accrued points. Items such as player-launched projectiles can be used to attack enemies from a distance, but the most effective way to get the job done is through balls-out combat. My favorite tactic was launching into the air and hurtling myself downward onto an unsuspecting victim. The fact that a successful beat-down also nets a heathy portion of the prey’s digital doubloons was just a bit of added icing on the cake.
Several times each match, a single ramp opens at a neutral location. It’s extremely critical to pay attention, because this is the only opportunity for a player to bank their current winnings and combine points with the rest of their teammates. The mad dash to deposit points results in the most entertaining moments of a match. Should you rush the ramp and risk getting attacked by a herd of opposition, all in the name of protecting the pot? Or would it be smarter to sit back and feast on the opposition while they make a mad dash to bank? These are all factors to consider, but it’s paramount to remember that any points left unsecured at the end of a match are never added to a team’s final total.
One factor that works in the game’s favor is its lack of dependence on actual players. That may sound a bit weird on paper but considering that multiplayer needs full rosters on both teams, the inclusion of bots keeps the matchmaking waits to tolerable levels. An undesired side effect of this is the frequent instances of rosters being made up of mostly bots. Quite frankly, I can only recall a handful of rounds over a several day span that actually featured more real players than AIs. Hopefully things will pick up after the introduction of ranked play, which hits later on this month, because the only thing missing from pre-game lobbies are rolling tumbleweeds.
That Familiar Feeling
Despite the obvious emphasis being on the intense esport-centric multiplayer, I actually found myself gravitating towards the single player challenge mode. Each stage was made up of a series of unique platforming challenges that are meant to test the mettle of the player, while also doubling as a handy tutorial on the game’s refined tactics and advanced controls. Maps played out very much like the Xbox LIVE Arcade exclusive, Marble Blast Ultra, which also just so happened to be one of my favorite pastimes early in the last console generation. If only the list of stages didn’t come to an end so quickly. If there were more single player maps added as DLC, they would be must-play.
In all of the PR materials for Kabounce, you will find pinball references everywhere. Honestly, that is what interested me in the game in the first place. However, once you dig into the actual gameplay, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the developers were using pinball as a bit of a design crutch. Sure, objects in the environments looked like bumpers and there was an occasional flipper here or there, but ultimately this could have been reskinned as something else entirely and it wouldn’t have changed the mechanics one iota. Drawing this parallel essentially does the game a disservice, because as a pinball experience it’s poor at best. On the other hand, as a multiplayer zone-capturing game, it’s far more proficient.
There are plenty of aspects of Kabounce to enjoy. The fast-paced action, stylistically exaggerated attacks and intense give-and-take help deliver a genuinely enjoyable experience. However, things tend to run out of steam rather quickly. If you are looking for an entertaining way to burn a few hours, look no further. If you have aspirations of extensive replayability, however, you will be better served rolling on by.
Kabounce review code provided by publisher. Version 1.0 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.